Budget cuts expected to claim around 120 BBC Scotland jobs

BETWEEN 100 and 120 jobs are at risk of redundancy at BBC Scotland over the next five years, as a result of a radical review of the BBC’s operation which is expected to claim 2,000 jobs UK-wide.

The review, titled ‘Delivering Quality First’, follows negotiations last year between the Westminster government and the BBC that led to the licence fee being frozen for six years. With inflation factored in, plus some new commitments regarding the funding of the World Service, Welsh-language channel S4C and local television initiatives, that is the equivalent of a 16 per cent cut in budget, which was upped to 20 per cent after some new programming announcements (to ‘boost quality and distinctiveness’) made by director-general, Mark Thompson.

A 16 per cent budget cut being required specifically of BBC Scotland translates to an annual £16.1 million from £102 million.

BBC Scotland is in the final year of a five-year ‘Continuous Improvement Programme’ that identifed 200 posts being axed, with 20 posts still to be made redundant.

Until today’s announcement, net staff numbers at BBC Scotland have, however, remained relatively stable these last four years – at around 1,300 – partly because of an increased number of commissions for UK-wide broadcast. Four years years ago, Thompson, pledged an increase in network commissions being made in Scotland when it was revealed that the figure was just three per cent of BBC spend (a ‘low point’ which also prompted First Minister, Alex Salmond, to set up a Scottish Broadcasting Commission).

Put out for consultation until Christmas, Delivering Quality First, UK-wide, has chosen to step back from the option of closing individual TV channels or radion stations. But, among the proposals, BBC Two will have its daytime output comprising mainly repeats and the sports budget is to be cut by 15 per cent.

Says the BBC: “The proposals cover two areas. First the planned programme of efficiencies which will encompass both the back-office functions of the BBC and the content and programme-making areas and will account for around 11 per cent savings on the current licence fee income.

“Second are the changes to the scope of what the BBC provides – to the structure, genres and investment in individual channels and services. This will make up six per cent of the stated 20 per cent savings.

“A final three per cent will consist of additional funding from commercial operations, savings from tighter management of working capital across the BBC and a contribution from the existing Continuous Improvement programme.”

Proposed are the following:

* Protecting BBC One and Two in peak time, albeit with small reductions in entertainment programming and acquisitions;

* Making BBC One the channel for all new general daytime programmes;

* Changing BBC Two’s daytime schedule to feature international news and current affairs programmes at lunchtime. Other parts of the daytime schedule would be repeats of mainly factual programmes, including science, history, natural history and arts, as well as live sport;

* Re-focusing BBC Three and BBC Four to play supporting roles to the two bigger channels; and

* Replacing the HD channel with an HD version of BBC Two to broadcast alongside the existing BBC One HD channel.

Plus the following, regarding radio …

* Protecting Radio 4 by keeping its underlying budget stable, excluding the impact of productivity savings;

* Greater sharing of news bulletins between Radio 2 and 6 Music, Radio 1 and 1Xtra, and Radio 3 and 4;

* Reducing the amount of original drama, live music and specially recorded concerts at lunchtime on Radio 3, and reviewing the BBC’s orchestras and singers;

* Reinvestment in the Proms to maintain quality;

* Focusing Radio 5 Live on core output of news and sport;

* A new more focused Asian Network with a 34 per cent reduction in its content spend; and

* Making savings in radio distribution costs through long term changes to Medium Wave and Long Wave.

Adds the BBC, under the heading, ‘Changes to programming and services in the nations and regions':

* For TV, protecting underlying investment in news programming; producing fewer non-news programmes and rebroadcasting more of them to UK audiences; and increasing investment in network programming produced across Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales;

* For nations radio, reducing investment in non-news programming and focusing on peak-time; and

* For English local radio, focusing spend on peak-time programmes, but with increased sharing across regions in off-peak slots.

And under ‘Changes in approach to digital access and distribution':

* Continuing with previously announced plans to reduce BBC Online’s budget by 25 per cent, but with some reinvestment in future digital development; and

* Reducing Red Button transmissions making the service consistent across all digital TV platforms.

Coming soon: the Scotland dimension, in more detail.