It’s often said that it’s vulgar to talk about money. Although those saying that are usually among the chattering classes who have more money than sense. But a few seconds of radio this past week made me quickly want to go and check on my bank balance, since I’m clearly being paid too much.
BBC Radio Four’s Feedback programme examined recent changes to the station’s schedule, which have principally meant a reshuffle at lunchtime to extend The World at One from 30 to 45 minutes. The merits or otherwise of this extension were discussed by the programme’s Editor Nick Sutton. He explained that, in order to accommodate this extra 15 minutes, its budget had been increased ay £100,000, which would fund, and I quote:
“one journalist, and a bit more – and allow additional coverage to extend what we want to do.”
Now, increasing programme budgets at a time when the BBC is facing huge cuts is perhaps admirable, at least from the listener’s point of view. But as a working, frontline journalist, I wonder whether Mr Sutton might have chosen his words a little more carefully. Because quoting a cool £100k to fund “one journalist” seems like a rather generous budget to even the most London-centric, latte drinking BBC stereotype that you can imagine.
Broadcasting is often seen as a glamorous career. Newspapers frequently trot out some of the ludicrous salaries enjoyed by its stars. But the reality is that a jobbing journalist in regional or local radio is probably earning around £25,000. And that’s a generous average – including a flexibility allowance which BBC management now want to cut.
Depending on when you joined the BBC, this allowance is worth between £2,600 and £5,000. It might well be viewed as a perk, and it used to be joked as “getting out of bed” money. In journalism, flexibility is a given. I can be working from 5am one day and until after midnight the next. Time off at weekends and public holidays is by no means guaranteed. Yet senior management claim that most people no longer work this way, which is why they want to axe the allowance.
Few ordinary members of the public would have much sympathy with journalists in the first place, and even less so for those who are seen to be earning a comfortable living. But looking at it from where I sit, I signed up to a contract of employment – part of which specifically said I would be paid extra for working flexibly. The allowance is frequently quoted by line managers when they need you to cover sickness, or stay beyond your shift time to deal with breaking news.
Right now, the National Union of Journalists and technician’s union Bectu are balloting for strike action on this issue. Doubtless the critics will round on us, saying that we’ve led far too cosy lives for far too long. And senior managers will plead with us not to support the strike – using that time honoured phrase that it will be “damaging to the BBC and unfair on our licence fee paying audiences.”
The truth is, the proposed cuts will be mean a hugely demoralised workforce, unwilling to work as flexibly as they do now. Fewer staff attempting to produce the same amount of quality output will result in a visible and audible drop in quality.
Even, perhaps, for the World at One.