BBC announces job cuts and programming changes

on 06 October 2011. Posted in General

Major changes will result from 'Delivering Quality First'

Mark Thompson, the Director General of the BBC, has announced plans for job losses and changed programming priorities in order to cut 20% from the Corporation's budget over the next five years. No TV channels or radio stations will close but the way many of them operate will change. A summary of the plans, headed Delivering Quality First, have been published on the BBC website.

Responding to the announcement, Writers' Guild General Secretary Bernie Corbett said:

'Along with the other entertainment unions I have a meeting with Director-General Mark Thompson later today, at which I hope we will learn rather more detail that the BBC has put on its website.

'The first thing to say is that Thompson should never have made the secret deal with the incoming government to freeze the licence fee for an absurd six years – he should have forced the issue into public debate, not capitulate in secret over a single weekend.

'But we are where we are, and the broad outlines of the strategy seem to make the best of a bad situation for writers and others involved in creating original new programming. We welcome reports in the papers this morning that BBC4 and Radio 4 will be protected, and hope they are true. We would like confirmation that the BBC regards scripted drama and comedy as core material that cannot and should not suffer any more – compared with most other countries we are fortunate to have such a strong home-grown industry and we would regret it deeply if we let it go.

'Let us hope that daytime repeats on BBC2 will strongly feature the many neglected jewels in the BBC’s drama archive – we have renegotiated our agreements with the BBC, making repeats much cheaper, specifically in order to help this happen. Concentrating the cuts on glossy light entertainment, quizzes and panel shows, and overpriced sports rights is sad for many performers and viewers, but is more bearable as other broadcasters can supply this kind of material.

'Using BBC3 and BBC4 as “feeders” for the main network channels, if handled courageously and imaginatively, could create opportunities for new waves of writers and performers.

'But these are crumbs of comfort, and this is a dismal day for thousands of skilled, hard-working and loyal BBC staff who are being dumped on the scrap-heap. For the UK to continually diminish the BBC is a self-inflicted wound, pointlessly damaging one of our last truly world-leading institutions. We need to stop this self-harm, reopen the licence-fee debate, and if we still need to save money we should close the World Service, now just a rolling news station, and instead make the BBC’s domestic riches available online worldwide; tell our spy agencies that if they want global broadcasting monitored they can do it themselves at their own expense; give the Welsh Assembly the power and the central funding to run a truly independent S4C; and end the self-censoring, safety-first, offend-no-one atmosphere that continues to stifle creativity in our most important cultural and entertainment service.'

The proposals from Mark Thompson and the BBC management come under the heading of Delivering Quality First, and the BBC Trust has opened a public consultation on them that will run until 21 December 2011.

Update: A further statement from Bernie Corbett

The entertainment unions’ meeting with Mark Thompson this afternoon was a predictably angry encounter, justifiably dominated by questioning from the technicians’ union BECTU and the journalists of the NUJ about mass redundancies, forced transfers to Salford, much reduced terms for new joiners and attacks on established benefits.

It was not the best occasion for forensic questioning about the slimming-down of public-facing services, which will be open to consultation until Christmas. Future meetings have been promised to cover those areas.

But further examination of the detailed proposals raises more questions than answers. There seem to be significant cuts in radio commissioning – comedy on R2 and R5 Live, new material for R4 Extra – and a suggestion that although Radio 4 has its budget preserved, drama may suffer more there as well. And what has happened to the guarantee of continued Asian-themed drama, now that the Asian Network is to be drastically cut?

BBC2 is promised more drama, but is this entirely at the expense of BBC4? Why does the list of repeats for daytime BBC2 pointedly fail to mention drama and comedy? Why is the report so reticent about plans for putting the BBC back catalogue online? We have been waiting more than two years for detailed plans, and still the silence is deafening. What on earth are the reductions promised to “outreach activity”? And is the new commitment to “four screens” – TV, tablet, mobile and PC – code for making more uses of programmes without more payments?

The Writers’ Guild will be taking up these issues and others with the BBC over coming weeks, and reporting back to our members on the answers we are given.