Chris’ll Fix It

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After months of uncertainty, the BBC Trust has finally published its conclusions on proposed cuts to Local Radio. And – on the surface of it, it’s good news for hundreds of staff who were wondering if they were going to lose their jobs. It’s also broadly good news for the audience, with plans to share afternoon programming scrapped and a pledge to protect frontline journalism. So everyone’s happy, right?

The BBC Trust Chairman, Lord Patten

Certainly Lord Patten, Chairman of the BBC Trust, has sufficient grounds for smiling. His final report on Delivering Quality First will go some way to appease the thousands of listeners and industry groups who opposed the original massive cuts that were being planned for Local Radio. Overall, the sums are much more palatable to stomach – cuts of £8m instead of £15m.

It’s also good news for the BBC Introducing strand, which champions new music throughout Local Radio. whilst some of the various shows around the country will have a new place in the schedule, the brand is not only being protected, but is likely to be strengthened through increased marketing via TV and online platforms. The same goes for the specialist ethnic programmes, serving England’s diverse communities.

New talent will still have a home on Local Radio

On the whole, the BBC Trust has shown it has a backbone, in listening and responding to the concerns of the audience. It’s strapline “Getting the best out of the BBC for Licence Fee payers” appears to ring true.

Yet away from the headline grabbing detail of DQF Mark 2, a little publicised report shines a very different light on some of the “back office” functions of the BBC. The Trust has responded to an assessment by the National Audit Office, which says – in very simple terms – that the BBC needs to get a greater grip on this side of the business.

Perhaps one of the most eye opening figures is the cost of the Director General’s office – at £4.6 million. Yes, blink a couple of times and the figure will still be there. £4.6 million. The report goes on to say

“the cost was 19 per cent lower in 2010-11 than in 2006-07.”

Which on the face of it sounds like big cuts have been made. Except that:

“in October 2010, the post of Deputy Director General was abolished, which removed the Deputy Director General’s salary costs and reduced administrative costs as support staff were no longer needed.”

By coincidence, the outgoing DG Mark Thompson visited my workplace only last week. I know this because his chauffeur driven car (part of the £3m in car allowances for senior managers) was outside the building. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to question him on the various costs of his office. Ironically, I was attending a workshop on how best to sell my CV in the outside world.

Don’t get me wrong. I realise that some back office functions are necessarily. The DG is, after all, the Chief Executive of a very large organisation. But £4.6 million? That’s the budget of almost three entire BBC Local Radio stations.

I’m grateful to Lord Patten for seeing some sense over DQF. I can only hope that he does the same when he appoints the next DG.

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