Atmosphere of fear does exist, BBC staff poll finds: Employees have low opinion of management but are proud of programmes

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The Independent Online
FEAR, mistrust and bureaucracy are the worst aspects of working for the BBC, according to a survey of staff opinion published yesterday. Employees have a low opinion of management, but on the plus side they like their closest colleagues and are proud of BBC programmes.

In April, a third of the BBC's staff, chosen at random, were presented with 150 propositions and asked to grade them from one to five, according to how well they fitted their own perceptions. Responses to the survey were received from 4,819 staff, or 55 per cent of those who were sent the questionnaires.

The proposition 'It is safe to say what you feel in the BBC' received an average rating of only 2.16. This seems to confirm what Mark Tully, the corporation's correspondent in India, said in his speech this week about the BBC being ruled by fear - an assertion denied by John Birt, the Director-General.

At a press conference to launch the report, Pamela Taylor, director of corporate affairs, said that although the management accepted the staff criticisms, it should be remembered 'that it is this management that has asked them what they feel and has asked people at every level to address the results of the survey'.

The lowest rated proposition was that 'bureaucracy is minimised at the BBC', scoring a mere 1.65. Scarcely more credible was the assertion that 'staff trust the information communicated to them about the BBC', rated at 2.06. The majority of respondents agree that the BBC is a system of 'baronies and territories' in which people use a 'fudge and fix' approach. The statement 'I feel secure in my present job' was rated at a low 2.2.

The quality of leadership provided by management was a target for sustained criticism. Most staff believe that the BBC's board of management does not work well as a team, that senior managers do not inspire staff and indeed make little effort to keep in touch with them at any level.

The survey included three 'open-ended' questions, with people required to give specific answers rather than ratings. Asked what was the one thing they would change if they were in charge, most said they would act to improve management. Only 5 per cent said they would replace the chairman of governors and/or the Director-General and only 3 per cent said that they would abolish the controversial internal market system of Producer Choice.

A third of those surveyed said the main barrier that prevented them being effective was bureaucracy and red tape, and nearly as many cited poor management. To the third 'open' question, about what made their job fulfilling, 24 per cent said the people they worked with and another 24 per cent said the high- quality end product.

BBC programmes and talent came well out of the exercise. The quality of public service they offer was rated at 4.02 and the standard of craft excellence at 4.20.

Margaret Salmon, director of personnel, said: 'The survey clearly shows tremendous pride in the organisation.' But she added that staff 'feel insecure and uninvolved'.

The survey, carried out by the American research company W Warner Burke Associates, cost pounds 85,000. Tony Lennon, chairman of the main staff union Bectu, said: 'There's nothing in it we didn't expect. They spent a small fortune finding out what we could have told them for free. The question now is whether they will do anything about it.'