Thompson given union deadline to halt BBC job cuts

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The Independent Online

Furious unions have given the BBC's director general until noon today to halt the redundancy process or face strike action.

The demand came after Mark Thompson said the BBC was to axe 2,500 posts and create 700 new jobs, leading to a total of 1,800 redundancies. In a speech to staff, Mr Thompson argued that, in order to survive, the BBC must become "smaller... but pack a bigger punch".

The cuts were necessary, said the BBC chief, to achieve 3 per cent annual savings demanded by a below-inflation licence fee settlement, which has left the corporation with a £2bn funding gap.

Union chiefs are particularly angry that letters asking employees – in the areas targeted by the cuts – to volunteer for redundancy have already been drafted, with some posted on Wednesday afternoon.

Some employees have already been called in by management and told their job is among those being cut.

Officials from the broadcast union Bectu and the National Union of Journalists, who met BBC chiefs at 7.30am yesterday, have demanded Mr Thompson halt the redundancy process by noon today. If he fails, the unions will begin a ballot for industrial action, a process that takes about four weeks, meaning staff could go out on strike by mid-November.

Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the NUJ, said: "We understand some of our members in individual jobs have already been told their jobs will go. We think that shows the bad faith of the BBC and makes a mockery of their fine words."

Bectu's general secretary Gerry Morrissey said the union's members were "very, very angry, because they believe the BBC is jumping the gun asking people to volunteer for redundancy without knowing the full picture.

"No detail is available about those 700 new jobs, but people are being asked to put their hand up. We find that totally unacceptable."

"People are going to ask for health and safety stress tests to make sure that the people left behind can cope with the current workload. It's irresponsible of them to go ahead and ask for redundancies before this is done."

Calling for "clarity and courage" and professing his love for the BBC, Mr Thompson asked the thousands of staff currently facing redundancy to "listen to the story today with an open mind".

Outlining his vision of a BBC that makes fewer programmes of higher quality, Mr Thompson revealed the programming budget would be cut by £100m, dozens of planned new services would be scrapped and Television Centre in west London would be sold by 2012.

News and factual are among the worst hit departments, while BBC Scotland and Wales are also due to lose significant numbers.

In news, 490 posts will be axed making a total of 370 redundancies, as television, radio and online news is merged into one "integrated, tri-media" newsroom. Flagship shows including Newsnight and the Today programme will come under the umbrella of a new department, news programmes.

Next year, the number of factual programmes will be cut by 11 per cent. As a result, the department is facing reorganisation, with 420 posts closing and a net 390 redundancies. The budget for all television programmes will be cut by 10 per cent. The number of pages on the BBC's website will be cut significantly.

Jana Bennett, the director of BBC Vision, said the corporation would stop making "middle-ground" factual programmes and instead focus on totemic brands such as Panorama and The One Show and landmark series such as Planet Earth and Dimbleby's Russia.

Late night programmes will also get the chop. Instead, the BBC will concentrate resources on high-impact dramas, such as Cranford starring Judi Dench and comedies such as The Catherine Tate Show.

BBC3 will not be closed, as has been suggested, but £10m is being sliced off the budget it shares with teen initiative BBC Switch.