BBC staff cuts fund new programmes

THE BBC's stringent staff cuts and other economies have allowed an extra pounds 255m to be earmarked for making new programmes over the next three years, John Birt, the Director-General, announced yesterday.

But more jobs will be lost, despite his recognition that fear of redundancy is the chief cause of low morale in the corporation.

Presenting the BBC's annual report, Mr Birt said that this week's White Paper proposing the continuation of the Royal Charter for another 10 years should make staff feel more secure, as would the extra programme funding.

'The period of very great change is coming to an end,' he said, 'but one can never promise no change,' he said.

Last year 1,500 people were dropped from the BBC's payroll. There are already plans for another 700 redundancies this year, with more to come later as part of a plan to cut an additional pounds 87m, or more than 10 per cent, from the corporation's cost base.

The pounds 255m for developing new programmes between 1995 and 1997 consists of pounds 75m already allocated, plus pounds 180m to be given to a new programme strategy fund. This will go into the whole range of BBC output, but especially into popular television drama - the major programme weakness identified in the report.

Radio 5 Live, the new 24-hour sport and news network, had been paid for entirely out of efficiency savings, Mr Birt said. They had also contributed to the development of the early evening television current affairs programme Here and Now, introducing comedy to Radio 1 and hiring more journalists in the regions. The BBC's total spend on programmes last year was pounds 1.4bn. It made a surplus of pounds 122m before restructuring costs of pounds 52m.

In last year's report, Marmaduke Hussey, the BBC chairman, singled out discourteous interviewers as one of the governors' main areas of concern. This year the governors focus on intrusion into privacy.

'We have no doubt that the justification for many recent media intrusions into private lives has been prurient sensation rather than the public interest,' the report says. 'Occasionally, in the heat of the journalistic chase, the BBC has itself made mistakes.'

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