Jobs to go in BBC revamp

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The BBC yesterday took a crucial further step towards realising the Birtian revolution by unveiling a new, slimmed down structure for the Corporation's massive production arm.

The plan, part of the overall re-structuring of the BBC announced by John Birt, the director general, last June, will see BBC network radio and television departments put together for the first time, at the likely cost of hundreds of jobs.

From 36 units currently, BBC Production will have just 18 from 1 April next year, ranging from Children's Programmes to Documentaries and History to Drama and Education.

From 4,000 jobs currently, Ronald Neil, chief executive of BBC Production, conceded there would be fewer but refused to quantify the cuts. The BBC overall is looking for additional cost savings of 15 per cent over three years on its total revenues of approximately pounds 2bn, suggesting BBC Production could see several hundreds jobs go over the medium term.

But Mr Neil and Alan Yentob, director of programmes at BBC Production, insisted the proportion of programme makers would increase over time. "The aim to create a centre of excellence," Mr Yentob said. "There is no such thing as a job for life at the BBC anymore."

BBC Production will be responsible for pounds 600m in programme making a year. But it will have to bid for the commissions, and BBC Broadcasts, the commissioning arm, has the right to go outside the Corporation if it chooses.

For the foreseeable future, BBC Production would not be making programme for non-BBC UK broadcasters, Mr Yentob said. "The issue of whether we do so in the future has to be considered very carefully."

The split between BBC Broadcast and Production has been seen as a step toward creating a virtual corporation, with the public service broadcaster responsible for commissioning programmes and not necessarily for making them.

BBC Resources, which operates studios, is set to be spun off as separate wholly owned commercial subsidiary which the BBC's unions believe is a stage on the way to privatisation. In their view, BBC Production could also be a candidate.

As part of yesterday's announcement, the BBC confirmed it would apply the "bimedial" approach across the whole of production, bringing together television and radio. Key brands will be created, including BBC Science, BBC Music and BBC Consumer and Leisure.