Exclusive: BBC’s ‘race problem’ gets worse as more ethnic minority staff quit the corporation last year than joined

Lenny Henry has warned that Britain is 'hemorrhaging talent' to the US because of a lack of opportunities for black actors and programme makers


The BBC is going backwards in its attempts to recruit a more ethnically diverse workforce, according to the organisation's own figures.

While 475 people from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds joined the broadcaster in the year to the end of September 2013, a greater number - 507 - left the BBC, almost one third of them voluntarily.

The figures are in spite of concerted efforts by the BBC to improve the diversity of its workforce and support claims made by the actor Lenny Henry, who is leading a campaign to persuade the organisation to introduce ring-fenced programme budgets designed to increase the numbers of BAME staff.

Mr Henry appeared before Parliament's Culture Media & Sport Committee on Tuesday and told MPs that “we are hemorrhaging talent in this country” to the US because of a lack of opportunities for black actors and programme makers.

“There was this idea floating around that BAMEs didn't have enough marquee value, enough star power to drive feature films or a long-running TV series but people like Idris Elba, Marianne Jean-Baptiste… and Chiwetel Ejiofor have disproven this. And they could be benefiting us here - this is all about benefiting our country and representing us as a global force.”

The BBC's “Employee Equality Information Appendices” show that 633 employees, one quarter of the total 2,522 BAME staff employed by the corporation, are based in the Global News division (which includes the World Service and foreign language services), allowing the organisation to claim that 12.4 per cent are from ethnic minorities. In the UK population, 14 per cent of people are from BAME backgrounds.

The statistics help to explain an announcement by BBC Director General Tony Hall last week in which he said new measures to improve BAME representation at the organisation, including a £2.1m Diversity Creative Talent Fund, new internship schemes, executive development programmes and recruitment targets.

Marcus Ryder, editor of current affairs for BBC Scotland, and one of the BBC's more senior black staff members, said: “A net loss of BAME staff from the BBC is worrying and depressing. It's not through want of goodwill from senior management to increase BAME staff. It suggests a need to reassess what we are doing and that good intentions alone are not enough to solve this problem.”

Although 50 per cent of staff in Global News - which includes the Arabic Service and BBC Persian - are from minority ethnic backgrounds, whereas 7 per cent of staff in the Policy & Strategy department and the Studios & Post Production division are BAME. Large numbers of BAME staff also work on the Asian Network radio network and 1-Xtra urban music station.

Some 28 per cent of senior level staff in Global News are from ethnic minorities but the proportion is not matched in other BBC departments, such as Marketing & Audiences, where only 3.8 per cent of staff are BAME. Only one out of 24 senior staff at the BBC Trust was from an ethnic minority.

Most black and minority ethnic staff at the BBC are concentrated in the lower pay grades. BAME staff account for only 6.3 per cent of staff at senior manager level but 12.2 per cent of the lowest pay level.

A BBC spokesperson said: “Along with the rest of the broadcast industry we think more needs to be done to attract and retain talent from BAME backgrounds. That’s why we launched an action plan to address this issue last week and people should judge us on progress over the coming months and years.”

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