BBC staff to buy and sell their days off

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BBC presenters, producers and secretaries are to be allowed to buy and sell their days off to improve their "work-life balance".

Greg Dyke, the director general, announced yesterday that staff would be able to purchase extra holiday, offload unwanted days for cash or store them up to take a paid sabbatical.

Details of the scheme were revealed in the corporation's "Big Conversation" address to more than 20,000 employees. In one of the biggest corporate events in British industrial history, Mr Dyke addressed BBC staff in 160 offices worldwide. Most saw his message live, although employees in time zones remote from Britain were urged to watch the address on video.

The event was shunned by members of the National Union of Journalists, which called a boycott in protest over the allegedly unfair dismissal of two BBC producers. The union claimed "solid support" for the action.

In a swipe at his predecessor, Sir John Birt, who was criticised for relying on management consultants, Mr Dyke said: "People inside the BBC came up with these changes, not a bunch of expensive consultants. When I came here three and a half years ago, I was shocked by how many unhappy people there were in the BBC. I hope it is a happier organisation today."

Critics have suggested that a controversial plan to spend millions of pounds of public money on leadership courses is exactly the kind of scheme in which his predecessor would have delighted. But Mr Dyke insisted: "There is a deep-rooted fear in public organisations that spending money on your staff is seen as a waste. That's nonsense."