Raymond Snoddy: Thompson grasps staffing nettle to ensure a new fee and charter

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The Independent Online

Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, may have a stubbly beard but he didn't exactly qualify as Santa Claus yesterday as he doomed thousands of BBC employees to the prospect of redundancy in the new year.

Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, may have a stubbly beard but he didn't exactly qualify as Santa Claus yesterday as he doomed thousands of BBC employees to the prospect of redundancy in the new year.

But as the former chief executive of Channel 4 emphasised at a briefing soon after revealing the long-expected news to staff, anyone who didn't think that the BBC needs to change should just "have a look at Currys in the run up to Christmas" - a reference to the array of digital TV and radio equipment now on sale.

For good or ill the plans announced yesterday for big cuts in the BBC bureaucracy, a move towards higher spending on programme areas such as drama and comedy and a one-way ticket to Manchester for 1,700 staff - eventually - are the BBC's own blueprint for the digital age.

The dramatic changes, Mr Thompson insisted, were not the result of government pressure in the wake of the Hutton report but the corporation's own view "of the right path" which would protect the BBC's future into the next decade.

Great individual pain and many disrupted careers will result from yesterday's announcements but most of it is absolutely necessary and long overdue. Around 2,500 jobs are to go in the professional services that provide back-up to BBC programme-makers - everything from human resources and legal and financial through to strategy, policy and marketing.

No less than 47 per cent of posts in these areas will be eliminated and not one of them directly involved in making programmes of any kind. About half of the 2,500 posts will simply disappear while the other half will be outsourced with an overall savings of £68m.

Former director general Greg Dyke may have been an inspirational leader, but he didn't begin to get to grips with the BBC bureaucracy.

A 15 per cent cut in production budgets will also be tough but few outside observers believe the BBC is not capable of achieving greater efficiencies.

The decision to protect 50 per cent of the BBC's in-house production while putting up a 25 per cent slice to be fought over in a creative competition between independent and staff producers is an interesting compromise. The notion that the independents were only capable of coming up with exactly 25 per cent of the best ideas in broadcasting - the proportion imposed by broadcasting legislation - was more than a little far-fetched as anyone watching independent programmes such as Spooks would realise.

Thompson will certainly not be a ho-ho-ho figure in many BBC homes this Christmas. But as someone who has spent most of his working life in the BBC, he has probably taken the tough decisions to ensure that the corporation will get a new licence fee settlement and a new Royal Charter to run for 10 years from 1 January 2007.

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