BBC bosses should be prised out of senior roles to let new talent rise up

The corridors of New Broadcasting House are blocked by lifers who can't cut it outside. It's time for fixed terms in top BBC jobs

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The Independent Online

At last week's Edinburgh TV Festival, we were treated to a full-throated defence of the BBC from writer Armando Iannucci, backed by BBC Director of TV Danny Cohen with his usual peevish batting off of any criticism of the Corporation. The stout resistance to the barbarians at the gate is all very laudable, and to be expected when the Conservative government has the BBC in the crosshairs. But BBC bosses still expect licence fee payers to drink the Kool Aid while ignoring the vast elephant in the room – the truly hopeless management of staff at the corporation.

It’s not just the multiple layers of Byzantine bureaucracy, overlapping roles and grotesquely inflated pay levels for senior staff - which the public is already aware of – but there’s also a warping of the BBC's core purpose as a meritocratic organisation that offers opportunities for all. The continued failure to weed out the senior managers who seem to regard the BBC as a job for life, means that those who are well past their prime can hang on to top roles, in some cases well past retirement age, blocking the corridors of the BBC for younger talent who deserve the chance of moving upwards. For a publicly funded institution, it is a disgrace.

Too often the BBC harbours staff that fail to cut it elsewhere. Many of the alumni who choose to leave scurry back in house to shelter from the harsh winds of commercial television. Years at the BBC tends to leave one unusually thin-skinned.

In an ideal world there would be fixed terms for senior positions of, say, five years: long enough to solve problems, implement change and see the results but short enough to ensure the organisation is constantly refreshing.

That's not to say that, once a post came to an end, the holder would be summarily ejected from the building. Other roles may be offered, or a pension dividend provided if they wanted to leave instead. The most talented may be offered another senior job – but that should be a genuine role, not a vague 'special project' created as a way of shunting senior executives aside without ruffling their feathers.

Fixed terms would give a huge stimulus to up and coming talent, encourage innovation and creativity and shake up the soul-sapping complacency of the 'job for life' brigade. 

It may also give the chance for some of those previously dug in like Alabama ticks to breathe the fresh air of the real world, leaving behind the mid-afternoon macaroon trolley.

Today fixed term roles are just a fantasy. But it’s an idea to take seriously for the future.

The writer is a former BBC staff member