BBC to shed 1,250 jobs over next five years

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THE BBC is to shed a further 1,250 jobs over the next five years, bringing its staff down from a peak of more than 25,000 in 1986 to 19,000 by 1996.

Sir Michael Checkland, who retires as Director-General next spring, announced the job losses to union leaders and senior managers yesterday as part of a package of cost-saving measures worth pounds 150m.

There will also be substantial cuts in support activities for network radio, with the closure of 17 studios and the withdrawal of 20 outside broadcast vehicles.

This is part of a reorganisation of radio resources, with some programme departments moving outside London and closer co-operation with local and regional radio stations to create what Sir Michael called 'centres of excellence'.

Most of the jobs are in peripheral activities such as printing and market research and most will go over the next 18 months.

They are linked to the controversial new Producer Choice system for radio and television, where the BBC's in-house support services are having to bid for contracts against outside suppliers of production facilities.

With lower staff overheads, the BBC crews should be able to bid more competitively.

The Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) reacted sharply to the announcement. Tony Lennon, the union president, said he would be going through the plans line by line with BBC management and demanding that they justify every cut.

'There is a limit to how much you can cut something like the BBC and still pretend it's business as usual,' he said. 'The quality and range of programmes will suffer. These are not just bureaucrats going, but real jobs.'

He said the reduction in outside broadcast vehicles would threaten popular programmes such as Gardeners' Question Time and Any Questions? As for the studio closures, 'the only thing you can do with a closed studio is put a padlock on the door or put a desk in for an accountant'.

Ten of the redundant studios are in London and the rest in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Bristol. It is BBC policy to reduce the amount of network production in London.

Among the radio departments to leave the capital are religious broadcasting, following televised religious programmes to Manchester, and Radio 2 specialist music, which is to be centralised in Birmingham.

Sir Michael said that pounds 30m of the pounds 150m savings would meet the shortfall resulting from last year's licence fee settlement, while the rest would go directly into programme-making.

A BBC spokesman said this was the last major round of cuts to be announced before the 1996 Charter Review.

The future size of the BBC staff would, he said, depend partly on how successful its facilities teams were in gaining commissions under Producer Choice.