Strike threat as BBC cuts 2,050 more jobs

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The Independent Online

More than 400 jobs are to be cut from BBC news as part of a fresh round of cuts of 2,050 posts that has left staff feeling "angry and astonished".

More than 400 jobs are to be cut from BBC news as part of a fresh round of cuts of 2,050 posts that has left staff feeling "angry and astonished".

The BBC faces the threat of industrial action from unions, who accused the director general, Mark Thompson, of "ripping the heart out of BBC programme-making".

Despite the BBC's pledge to make more programmes outside London, 735 posts are being cut from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions as part of a 13 per cent reduction in the headcount across the board. Mr Thompson, who announced the cuts to staff yesterday, said the job losses would save the BBC £221m a year, which will be reinvested in programmes. He admitted: "We are going through the toughest period any of us can remember. It's a difficult and painful process, but necessary. We need to free up money to start investing in our digital future, to end our current charter in December 2006 on budget, and to show we are serious about producing value for money."

The new wave of job cuts follows confirmation last week that 1,730 posts are to be scrapped in the BBC's professional services division, bringing the total number of redundancies to 3,780. When the BBC sells off two of its commercial subsidiaries, the total reduction in the 27,000-strong workforce will be around 6,000.

The BBC's governors have approved the cuts, which will be achieved by 2008, with the majority of jobs going over the next 18 months. Overall, the cuts will save the BBC £355m a year.

Broadcasting unions reacted angrily to the second tranche. The general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, Jeremy Dear, said: "First Mark Thompson severed the BBC's arteries with the announcement of 1,700 job losses in professional services, now we face the prospect of him ripping the heart out of BBC programme-making." He added: "There's a real threat to BBC news and current affairs staff and to programme-making staff. They are asking 80 per cent of the staff to produce 100 per cent of the programmes. Amongst BBC staff, the general reaction is one of anger and astonishment."

Luke Crawley, of the broadcasting union Bectu, said: "This is the worst day in the BBC's history. I can't see how the BBC will deliver all Thompson's promises about new services after ditching so many staff. Life for those who survive is going to be miserable."

Union leaders are meeting tomorrow to plan a joint response. They have already stated that they will ballot for strike action if the BBC presses ahead with compulsory redundancies.

In an internal memo, the BBC's head of news, Helen Boaden, said the department would make savings of £34m a year. About 420 posts will be cut in the news division - about 12 per cent of the total workforce - including 100 jobs in newsgathering, 86 in television news, 75 in radio news, 44 in news interactive, 37 in television current affairs and 10 in political programmes.

The job losses in news are expected to come from areas where correspondents are currently "doubling up" - covering the same stories for different bulletins. The NUJ said it expected Scotland and Newcastle to be among the worst-hit areas, although the BBC said the cuts in Scotland were on a par with Northern Ireland and Wales.

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