BBC axes 2,500 jobs but pledges more quality

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The BBC announced the loss of 2,500 jobs today - and said viewers would see fewer "middling" programmes.

Director general Mark Thompson said 1,800 of the jobs would be redundancies, with the rest either redeployed or expected to leave anyway.

Unions reacted angrily, disputing the BBC's claim to be defending public service broadcasting when it is making cuts in core news and current affairs.

As part of the changes, viewers should expect more "narrative" repeats - catch-ups on drama series, for example - with the BBC making 10% less original programming by 2012/13, the equivalent of £100 million of commissions every year.

The axe will fall on "middling output" to make way for investment in fewer, high quality programmes.

There will also be less investment in late night off-peak programming (after 10.30pm).

TV rather than radio will bear the brunt of the "efficiencies".

The BBC will shrink in size, with the sale of Television Centre in west London.

Mr Thompson said the result would be a "smaller BBC," which "packs in many ways a bigger punch" and focuses on quality.

In a speech this morning, he told staff he had "painful news" and some "difficult choices".

He told them: "I don't want to minimise the human consequences of some of the decisions we have reached. But this is not just a story about cuts. It's about building our future and grasping some amazing opportunities."

He said the BBC had to "concentrate on the best", citing experiments such as Radio 4's Down The Line, and added: "We'll need less middling output."

There will be a reduction in the hours of factual TV of around 11% by next year to concentrate on delivering "more quality and more value".

Mr Thompson said there would be more "landmark" programming such as Planet Earth and Andrew Marr's history of post-war Britain.

There will be more "narrative" repeats, but repeats on BBC1 on peak time will be kept at their current level.

Mr Thompson also announced the commissioning of fewer BBC web pages.

He said the BBC had to "reach out with quality content to those who use the BBC less, particularly children and younger audiences".

He added: "This does not mean reducing our commitment to our existing audiences... our heartland."

He pledged "no new channels or networks... new local radio stations or regional centres".

BBC News and Factual departments are being affected most by the redundancies, with the creation of an "integrated multimedia newsroom".

Mr Thompson said he believed staff would want the redundancy process to take place as quickly as possible.

He said he wanted to spend "as much of the licence fee on content and on retaining key talent as we can".

Unions are threatening strikes, which could result in some key programmes coming off air.

Gerry Morrissey, general secretary of Bectu, said strike action is guaranteed if the BBC goes ahead with predicted voluntary redundancies.

He said: "The BBC seems hell-bent on calling for volunteers for redundancy tomorrow. If they do that, we will start a ballot for industrial action.

"Mark Thompson agreed with us on the principle of retraining and redeployment but that is meaningless if they start calling for volunteers.

"They have to withdraw from that position, otherwise there will be a strike.

"We accept there have to be savings made but they are making a mistake by concentrating on their core output such as news and factual programmes".

Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the NUJ, said after meeting Mr Thompson: "Nothing said today reassures us that the BBC is committed to meaningful negotiations over the changes and we fail to understand how they can claim to be defending public service broadcasting while making the most savage cuts in core news and current affairs areas.

"Unless the BBC reconsiders its position, strike action looks inevitable."

Mr Grade said the investigation process had been "painful and costly".

ITV will have to pay £7.8 million in viewer reimbursements, and the total cost of the clean-up - including phone-in problems at GMTV - will come to £18 million.

He apologised to viewers, telling them: "Let me say, on behalf of ITV, that we deeply regret what has happened and how sorry we are for breaking trust with our viewers."

However, despite his "zero tolerance approach" to audience deception, no heads will roll as a result of the findings.

While phone-in scandals and fakery have led to the demise of several senior BBC executives - including BBC1 boss Peter Fincham and ex-Blue Peter editor Richard Marson - Mr Grade said he wished to avoid a culture of blame.

"In some instances there has been disciplinary action, but I don't intend to take a couple of token scalps in expiation. That would not solve the problem."

He said of the BBC departures: "I have no interest in making comparisons with other companies. Every one of these cases has been different, with their own nuances, circumstances and characteristics."

Fincham's resignation was "neither here nor there" when it came to the ITV report, he said.

ITV staff involved in phone-in failures had not deliberately sought to dupe viewers, he said.

"These failings were not venal. In all cases individuals were motivated by their professional instinct to produce the best show, but they failed to understand that this could come at the expense of keeping faith with participating viewers...

"Those involved thought they were working to make the best programmes.

"The effective solution is to change the culture, to change the system, to understand the importance of trust."

Mr Grade said there had been no "witch-hunt" - instead, staff were encouraged to come forward with their concerns.

He added: "I am absolutely sure that there isn't a person working in or for the company who doesn't understand now where and why it went wrong. And everyone also knows that a line has been drawn, and that there will be no excuses for ignoring it - the consequences will be severe.

"Now we have the processes in place it will be a case of one strike and you're out. That's how we will rebuild trust."

One of ITV1's most popular shows, The X Factor, opens its vote lines on Saturday and Mr Grade promised: "We are absolutely confident it will be clean as a whistle as a result of the Deloitte process.

"We expect massive voting this weekend. It's the public appetite that drives this."