BBC backroom staff wait for the axe to fall as Thompson makes his mark

Backroom staff could be targeted in a radical overhaul at the BBC which unions fear could lead to extensive job cuts.

Backroom staff could be targeted in a radical overhaul at the BBC which unions fear could lead to extensive job cuts.

A corporation source said the reported job cull in the biggest single re-organisation in the history of the broadcaster was likely to affect human resources as well as administration and legal departments.

This was neither confirmed nor denied by the BBC.

The source said: "We know for certain that people working in the back office areas are definitely being targeted for cuts."

The restructuring, said to be orchestrated by the director-general, Mark Thompson, is scheduled to happen before the parliamentary debate on the renewal of the BBC's 10-year royal charter at the end of 2006.

The re-organisation comprises four reviews which began when Mr Thompson took over as director-general in June.

A source said that there was an unofficial target of cutting BBC overheads from £325m to nearly £200m by reducing costs in human resources, legal and administration services.

He added that Mr Thompson would have a difficult task of reducing overheads, which had already reduced by 40 percent during the former director-general Greg Dyke's reign. "Overheads used to be 24 per cent and now they are down to Dyke's target of 14 percent. To take another 4 or 5 per cent off that is going to be extremely difficult and painful for people, particularly backroom people," he said.

In a meeting this month, Mr Thompson told 200 managers: "We're going to have to make tough choices and driving value for money means change."

A BBC official said the rumoured cull of up to 6,000 employees and any other changes were "purely speculative".

"We want to make significant savings and improve efficiency substantially but work is ongoing and no final decision has been made," the official said.

But union leaders criticised the corporation for leaving its 28,000-strong staff in a state of uncertainty about future changes. Paul McLaughlin, the NUJ's national broadcasting organiser, said staff felt great anxiety at the lack of clarification by BBC officials. "The silence is compounding the anxiety," he said.

Tony Lennon, president of Bectu, questioned some of the BBC's methods for raising cash to meet last year's £249m deficit.

"They are embarking on the sale and lease back of nearly two dozen buildings around London which, given the extremely depressed nature of commercial property, may not be the most beneficial use of assets. They also sold on their subsidiary companies for £150m against our advice and the advice of many specialists," he said.

He warned staff to be "braced for some fairly unpleasant changes" tabled for December which could include redundancies, changes to working practices, and further privatisation following the sale of BBC Technology this month.

"They are saying it is not a crisis and that past spending was part of the plan, that they knew they were going into cash negative, and that they need to come up with measures of self-help to restore operating deficit," he said.

The news of planned cuts came amid speculation that Mr Thompson could be preparing for an era of declining income after a period of growth.

The expected cutbacks are also likely to affect news and production departments with unconfirmed reports that there are plans to shed as many as 900 of 3,000 newsroom jobs after a review identified a duplication of posts. There is speculation that the One o'clock News bulletin could be replaced with a live feed from News 24. Last week, the editor of the 10 o'clock News, Kevin Bakhurst, said there may be some duplication on news production - such as in the coverage of the US presidential elections - because each programme is autonomous. There are 180 BBC employees covering the American elections.

Parts of the corporation may face privatisation, with more programming contracted out to independent producers, and some teams moved to Manchester under an "out of London" review, including the sports or children's departments as well as a radio station.

Three of the reviews are expected to report in December.

BATTLE TO CUT COSTS

1922: British Broadcasting Company founded with staff of four. Within three years, it grows to employ 150 staff

1993: Sir John Birt, right, takes over as director-general at the BBC with an estimated 30,000 employees

1994: Sir John's pro-active attempts to "streamline" the corporation result in staffing levels dropping to 27,000

1997: A further restructuring programme, trims the workforce down to 22,000

March 2000: Greg Dyke inherits a workforce of 22,000 as the new director-general of the corporation

July 2002: Announcement that 1,100 jobs are to be cut, saving £750m, in order to reach Government cost-savings target by 2006

2002: A £200m budget shortfall leads to further cost-cutting measures including job cuts

February 2004: By the end of Dyke's tenure, the number of BBC staff has risen to 27,632

August 2004: Paul Kirby, the man behind the Government's £20bn efficiency review, poached by the BBC to slash £2bn from the corporation's costs.

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