You can hear it in your head. The harmonica and accordion sadly serenading the sense of failure. The haunting reverberated voice, hitting a falsetto note in the final verse :
“What do I got to do? What do I got to do? When sorry seems to be the hardest word.”
It’s a classic. At least it is if you count Elton John’s original version of the song, as opposed to Lee Ryan’s “has-he-just-fallen-on-the-crossbar” moment.
And as this week comes to a close, it seems an entirely apt to dedicate that song to certain sections of The Management (as I’ve decided to call them) following one climb down and distant view of the reverse lights on the road ahead.
I’ll start with that first. As you may know, BBC Local Radio hangs in limbo right now, whilst the BBC Trust decides whether the Corporation’s cuts are to be implemented in full. Consultations always throw up plenty of debate, although not always among those who might be affected the most by any changes.
So it’s nice to see The Telegraph apparently bigging up the benefits of local radio. Starting with the heartening story of Radio Merseyside listeners collaring the Director General, we learned that Mark Thompson is may be at last getting the message that a huge number of people rely on local radio. Just to remind you, that’s around 7.5 million every week. But it’s the smidgen of rumour towards the bottom of the article that’s the most interesting:
One senior BBC source says privately: “Local radio is the one area of the cuts where senior management seem to think they’ve cocked up.” Rumours are circulating that Helen Boaden, the head of BBC news, has found a way of diverting £1 million or more back into local radio.
Of course, an un-named source should never be an immediate cause for celebration. And before we crack open the champagne, let’s err on the side of caution. BBC Local Radio has to save around £5.3 million from its content budget. And whilst getting a million back might seem like good news, it’s already know that stations have been promised extra reporting resources – but only if they achieve the required savings first. The words Peter, Paul and robbing spring to mind.
Yet there is a growing sense that those in charge are getting the message that they’ve seriously misjudged both the public and political mood. So will they say sorry, or should I instead put my life savings on me landing a leading role on Broadway before I’m 50? (Before the agents call, it’s not much of a choice since I don’t have any life savings).
And so to my second “Elton Moment” of the week. Yesterday a number of my colleagues attended a special “Transformation Workshop”, which had primarily been designed to tell journalists why their pay is likely to be effectively cut through reforms of the BBC’s pay structure. The National Union of Journalists and Bectu are currently balloting for strike action of the issue. So perhaps few were surprised when earlier this week, the BBC’s HR Head Lucy Adams suddenly announced that plans to effectively scrap shift allowances were now being put off until April 2013, rather than the arbitrary 2012 previously decided my senior managers.
It didn’t stop the workshop becoming a vocal forum for ordinary staff to express their sheer anger at the £3m of car allowances paid to senior managers – something which is to be scrapped for new managers but not existing ones. But there was equal anger over the admission that pay and conditions had been badly managed for so long. Again, the sounds of the harmonica and accordion were almost audible in the room – but the conclusion was one of admission rather than apology for past failings.
I was asked afterwards what senior managers could do to ease industrial relations, not just with the unions but with everyday shop floor workers. Elton’s song could be a good starting point.