‘No loss in output or quality': BBC Scotland seeks to assure Scottish Parliament committee

THE head of news and current affairs at BBC Scotland has said there would be no loss of hours, or drop in the quality, of news and current affairs, despite editorial job cuts caused by a freeze in the Licence Fee for the next five years.

John Boothman was speaking this morning at the education and culture committee at the Scottish Parliament, joined – in giving evidence – by the head of news at STV, Gordon MacMlllan; commentator, Iain Macwhirter; the NUJ’s Scottish Organsier, Paul Holleran; and Stuart Cosgrove, director of creative diversity at Channel 4.

The committee was convened to consider the public service broadcasting performance of the main TV channels in Scotland, particularly its news and current affairs output.

It was being held in the context of reports last week of radio news staff at BBC Radio Scotland facing job cuts, including the closure of two programmes, Newsweek Scotland and Scotland at Ten.

Said Boothman, there will be 30 posts in news and current affairs lost at BBC Scotland over the next five years, from a complement of 240. He also said the Licence Fee freeze was meaning a budget cut in news and current affairs over the same period of £2.2million.

But Boothman’s presentation was met robustly by several of those present, including Macwhirter, who argued that BBC Scotland news and current affairs is underfunded compared to network programming, UK-wide.

Said the committee’s chair, Stewart Maxwell MSP: “Many of us are puzzled by how you can maintain or improve quality and output given the loss of these shows and the very severe cuts to staff particularly producers that have been announced.”

In his detailed reply, Boothman said: “One of the things the BBC has been good at is training our journalists, multi-skilling our journalists, to make sure these things can happen and there can be no drop in quality and I’m convinced we can do that.”

Of the programmes, Newsweek Scotland and Scotland at Ten, in particular, Boothman said the former would be replaced by a Saturday version of Good Morning Scotland that is twice as long, at two hours, than Newsweek Scotland. Regarding Scotland at Ten, he said it was a casualty of a decision to have more speech programming during the day than currently and more music at night.

Macwhirter commended the recent flurry of BBC coverage around the planned referendum on independence. He said: “What we seen is what broadcasting should be like in Scotland if the BBC were fulfilling its public service remit. I’m afraid it isn’t, despite the heroic efforts of everyone in BBC Scotland; there are amazingly talented people in there, who are really dedicated to what they are doing, getting paid miserable amounts of money – compared to their network equlivalent – and made to feel second-rate because they don’t want to work in London. That’s why you get the collapse in morale which I can tell you is very serious in broadcasting in Scotland.”

Holleran said he too believed morale was low at BBC Scotland and that staffing levels was causing stress among the workforce and having a “massive impact on the health and safety of our members”.

Boothman said: “It would be fair to say the BBC has some of the best pay and conditions in this industry in Scotland, some of the best working environments, some of the best records in health and safety, and some of the best occupational health provision. If there are any concerns about these things, we are always willing to talk about them and take them on.”

Read a further report of the proceedings, plus a video recording of the whole event, here.