The mood was nervous as BBC staff gathered round the "ring main" – the corporation's internal broadcast system – yesterday morning, to listen to Mark Thompson and his fellow executives outline the future of the organisation.
The previous evening, the director general held a meeting with "talent" – presenters including John Humphrys, Mark Lawson and Lord Winston – to discuss the future of the BBC. Humphrys, who has gone on the record with his concerns about the future of BBC News, described it as "surprisingly congenial and constructive", although some of those present were "not best pleased" about cuts.
But the household names gathered on Wednesday night are not the ones whose jobs are on the line. The turn of the rank and file came yesterday morning, when Mr Thompson pleaded with them: "Like many of you, I love the BBC and what it stands for. I love it too much to see it drift steadily into irrelevance."
After speeches from Mr Thompson, Jana Bennett and Helen Boaden, staff gathered for departmental meetings to find out exactly what the "painful news and difficult choices" of which the director general had spoken meant for them.
Emotions ran high. From at least one of those meetings, an employee fled in tears. But the overwhelming feeling was one of confusion. On the one hand, Mr Thompson promised a BBC which delivers quality, distinction and innovation. On the other, he announced that 2,500 posts will be axed in the next five years. Even when 700 new posts are created, this will still leave 1,800 redundancies. And – people were asking – if the redundancy process goes ahead with the speed that Mr Thompson has pledged, would people have enough time to apply for new jobs?
"There was a great deal of confusion and anger," said one insider. "The statements about safeguarding investments and 20 per cent job cuts in news and factual seem to be entirely contradictory."
Employees were particularly upset by proposals such as the scrapping of the unpredictability allowance – a £5,000 handout in return for working whenever they are needed – for all staff members who join from January 2008.Reuse content