Janet Street-Porter: The BBC must cut its self-serving managers

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The BBC trustees met yesterday to consider how to implement cuts saving £2bn over five years – the revenue shortfall from last January's new licence settlement. Director General Mark Thompson has a difficult choice – not helped by high-profile BBC stars such as Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys bickering in public about whether Today or Newsnight should be spared further cutbacks.

Over the summer, Peter Salmon, head of BBC Vision, has been conducting a review of in-house production, and the trustees have set up two sub-committees to evaluate the various options, all of which will involve redundancies. Research indicates that the public wants more distinctive and original programmes. There are fears that respected documentary strands like Storyville – low ratings but highly valued by viewers – will be dropped. Some respected media commentators, like Ray Snoddy (in this paper) fear that "a cosy deal will be done behind closed doors" and that the axe will fall right across the Corporation.

This would be classic BBC behaviour of the kind I know only too well. The BBC never ever likes to give up anything. In fact, in the 10 years since I worked there, the number of pompous management titles has multiplied along with the number of channels. I was talking to a well-known writer and BBC presenter the other day and we both agreed that what prevents the BBC from operating in the real financial world, are the self-satisfied whingers in middle management. The people you have to ask to book a taxi, order biscuits, plan a trip to the party conferences or get a room for a meeting. The BBC is absolutely stuffed full of these buggers preventing programme makers controlling their own budgets. They leech away producers' choice and their ability to devise, shoot and bring programmes to the airwaves in a variety of economical ways.

There's always a pre-ordained "BBC" way of doing everything, with all the attendant emails and paperwork. Of course, you only have to step outside the cosy confines of the Corporation – I work for around 15 independent production companies in any one year as well as ITV – to see that crews are smaller, paperwork is minimised and money goes much further.

The debate isn't whether BBC3 or BBC4 should be axed but whether the BBC can, at last, boot out about 50 per cent of middle management, leaving the creative people working with the channel controllers with no layers in between. Every decision seems to have to go through five focus groups, two managers and three top dogs. Decisions take forever, and no one grasps responsibility.

This labyrinthine process leads to disasters like Queengate, where no one understood what an independent producer was getting up to when it was decided to re-edit footage of the monarch to make it more "entertaining". The result? Huge embarrassment and a permafrost over dealings with the Palace.

If Mark Thompson could tell not just a slice, but a massive chunk of his executives, back room staff and schedulers to walk the plank, and give the remaining experienced producers freedom to apportion their budgets as long as quality remained the same, I would give three cheers. I guarantee that programmes would not suffer and morale would improve. But don't hold your breath. The BBC is the only place in medialand where highly paid workers are treated like small children.

The way they were (and, God help us, are)

The Sex Pistols, above, are reforming to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their album Never Mind the Bollocks, and it's pretty depressing. Tickets go on sale tomorrow for their Brixton Academy show on 8 November, but I'm not bothering. Is the growth of Codger-Rock unstoppable? My ex from Sigue Sigue Sputnik has a band with Mick Jones called Carbon Neutral, even though they look like a couple of granddads on stage. Led Zeppelin may have to disguise thinning hair with hats when they play the O2 Arena on 26 November, along with fellow codgers Pete Townshend and Bill Wyman. I adored the Pistols when I interviewed them back in 1976 – and they played an electrifying show in Soho. I prefer to remember them for the excitement they generated back then, before middle age set in.

* Should the police hold the DNA of innocent people? The influential Nuffield Council on Bioethics is against plans to extend this database with samples from people arrested on suspicion of minor offences such as speeding. The police claim it will enable them to solve crimes – but you only have to look at the furore surrounding the Madeleine McCann case to see just how DNA samples can be interpreted in all kinds of ways.

I have a vested interest. Earlier this year a neighbour made an allegation about me, and when I attended the police station I was fingerprinted and my DNA taken in the presence of my lawyer. I was never charged with anything and the matter was dropped. Why should Islington police hold my records? According to papers submitted to the North Tees Primary Care Trust, when a celebrity was admitted to hospital recently, more than 50 people accessed their records on the NHS computer system. I have no confidence whatsoever that the police will be able to store DNA securely over the coming years.

Comments