Blog: Don’t let cuts and challenges stop the BBC innovation it desperately needs

30 January 2020


Head of the Bectu sector of Prospect Philippa Childs discusses the challenges facing the BBC and what they mean for staff and Bectu members.

BBC Media City Salford

BBC Media City Salford

My favourite BBC programmes are Desert Island Discs on Radio 4, BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing and Match of the Day. These are just a few choices which make the BBC mine.

The BBC’s ability to entertain, inform and educate is second to none. But, I am now questioning which of my chosen few will face the chop in light of various comments made by government officials recently.

I was shocked to hear about the Victoria Derbyshire show being dropped last week especially because the crew, including some Bectu members, were informed by a leak to the press.

Bectu is in the privileged position of being the largest union at the BBC. Our thousands of members are the people who work to ensure that what you see on the screen, hear on the radio, click on iPlayer are all correct and in order. They aren’t the on screen talent getting paid huge salaries; they are the people who make the BBC tick day-in-day-out.

The vast majority of Bectu members sit in the two BBC pay bands that range from £23,103-£37,922 and £25,670-£50,313 with many landing mid-range or below. Collectively their creative input and expertise is the reason why the BBC is an institution and continues to be so highly regarded around the world. Yet, the Victoria Derbyshire crew found out that their livelihoods could potentially be in jeopardy through the newspapers. That’s just not good enough.

Putting that aside, there are more changes coming down the line as the BBC are about to start covering the cost of the licence fee for over 75s who are on pension credit. This was a condition, during a previous round of licence fee negotiations, for annual licence fee increases to be linked to the Consumer Prices Index (CPI). Despite the licence fee being linked to CPI, the new settlement meant the BBC has had to find £250 million of savings and £80 million of those are coming from news.

BBC News has announced (29 January) that it will be making changes to Newsnight, 5 live News and radio bulletins, including redundancies – 450 jobs in total. Radio production and operations will also be losing roles.

The repercussions for our members are obvious and Bectu will be doing everything it can to minimise the impact. We have already met with the BBC to discuss how quickly these changes will be taking place, and to start negotiations on how staff can be deployed to other areas rather than losing their jobs. But this round of cuts and redundancies is just the tip of the iceberg.

The BBC’s position as a treasured and essential public service is at risk. This isn’t an exaggeration. Bectu has seen the unprecedented scale of savings the BBC has already implemented. The government’s tone about the BBC in recent months has caused alarm bells to ring throughout the Bectu membership and across the broadcasting community.

If the government is serious about decriminalising the licence fee there are many more hard choices coming down the line – not just for news. All those programmes I enjoy will have to be considered – are they still viable with a constrained budget? That is the reality we could all be dealing with in the coming years. The result will be a compromised BBC trying to continue to fulfil its remit, but without the resources to do it – something Bectu has warned of on numerous occasions.

Our members will be under pressure and audiences will question what is going on. The UK’s position on the international broadcasting stage will change. Many other countries look at the BBC in awe of its range of output, ability to stay relevant and capacity to innovate. At a time when the UK is creating a new global political position, the BBC – one of the UK’s key international brands – could potentially be damaged.

I have a vested interest in the wellbeing of BBC staffers and freelancers, who are part of the vital engine contributing to the UK broadcasting economy, as well as being a viewer. Despite the cuts and challenges ahead, I believe that innovation is the key to the BBC’s future. It has innovated before, but now it has to evolve and adapt before the next charter renewal discussions start. The legacy of iPlayer and how it helped to shape viewing habits shows what the BBC is capable of and that is what it should be aiming for again.

Do you work in the BBC?

Bectu is the biggest union in the BBC, with a long history of working hard for the benefit of BBC employees. Secure your voice at work now by joining Bectu.