Granada staff fear production clear-out

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GRANADA TV has postponed a crucial meeting with staff unions amid growing fears of wholesale redundancies at the Manchester- based company, which produces Coronation Street.

Chief executive Gerry Robinson and his colleagues were due to meet the unions on Tuesday to discuss the future direction of the company. But the talks have been put back to August because a financial review is taking longer than expected.

Staff are worried that the company is planning to 'farm out' programme making to independent producers to reduce overheads. Granada employs 1,300 people and contracting out could cost 800 jobs. But management insists this is not an option and that any cuts would only be 'trimming'.

Last February, Alex Bernstein, Granada's chairman, and Mr Robinson reassured the Independent Television Commission that the company would remain a producer- broadcaster that makes programmes rather than a publisher- broadcaster that just commissions them.

Granada's problems have been heightened by the recently announced marriage of Tyne-Tees and Yorkshire TV. This leaves Granada a poor second in its key northern sales area. Granada failed to win the Newcastle-based Tyne- Tees in last year's franchise round.

It now faces an uphill battle if it is to achieve its declared aim of becoming one of the big four or five ITV stations after the bar on hostile takeovers expires in 1994.

One Granada executive said management was considering a three- pronged approach to strengthening its position.

International activities will be reorganised. The company is already in negotiations with Anglia and Thames Television about joining forces on overseas representation.

Press and publicity will be restructured. One option is to contract out some of these activities to Thames.

Technical and support services, such as catering and cleaning, may be farmed out by the company to reduce overheads.

Moves to contract out any of the group's services will almost certainly be opposed by staff. 'The problem is you start chopping your fingers and then your hands and then your arms, and when you do that, you find it is difficult to do anything,' said one programme maker.

Another producer said staff feared that such trimming would be the thin edge of the wedge.

Gerry Robinson said last week that Granada was unlikely to change radically over the next two years. His main concern, he declared, was to see a decent profit on the company's programmes.

Although Granada produces the most popular show in the country - Coronation Street - it is paid on the basis of costs. Under the central scheduling system to be implemented next year, ITV is expected to pay commercial margins for programmes. Media analysts believe Granada will be in a position to double the price of Coronation Street, adding another pounds 12m from this show alone.

(Photograph omitted)