Highlands and Islands MSPs submit letter opposing BBC job cuts

PLANS to cut editorial jobs in the Inverness office of the BBC have been attacked by MSPs representing the Highlands and Islands.

In a letter sent to BBC Scotland director, Ken MacQuarrie, eight MSPs claim: “It seems incredible to us that at a time of huge political importance the BBC in Scotland is coming forward with plans to reduce the number of journalists working for the Corporation. We agree with the First Minister that the BBC should ‘start behaving like a national broadcaster’ and to do that you must invest in the future of the service rather than diminish it.”

In August, it was announced that 35 editorial posts at BBC Scotland had been earmarked for redundancy as part of an ongoing programme to implement a 16 per cent budget cut following an agreement two years ago between the BBC and the Westminster government to freeze the TV licence fee for six years.

The 35 posts comprise, in detail, eight from radio, two from Gaelic, 17 from news and current affairs, six from marketing, communications and audiences and two from New Media, learning and outreach.

Two out of four (English language) senior broadcast posts in Inverness have been identified as part of the plan.

The MSP signatories are Michael Russell (Argyll and Bute), Fergus Ewing (Inverness and Nairn), Rob Gibson (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross), Alasdair Allan (Western Isles), Dave Thomson (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch), and Highlands and Islands regional MSPs Jean Urquhart, John Finnie and Mike MacKenzie.

The letter continues: “We therefore reject your overall proposals but we would agree with those who say that what you plan for the Highlands and Islands is even worse than your plans for the rest of the country.

“We have received representations from your staff in the Highlands which question, with considerable authority, the facts which you have placed in the public domain about both staff numbers and actions you intend to take to support staff continuing in post.”

The story was reported in The Herald today.

The letter goes on to say: “Overall, you have failed to make any coherent case for the changes you propose and we are strongly of the view that these cuts would greatly diminish the essential service the BBC provides to our constituents.

“We therefore ask you to accept that they should not be made.

“We would of course welcome an opportunity to put this case to you in person and we would suggest a meeting in Edinburgh to that end. We will be in touch with your office to suggest dates. We are also copying this to the Chair of the BBC Trust and we would welcome a meeting with him to ensure that body is aware of the destructive nature of your proposals.”

The BBC Scotland response comprises mainly the following: “The funding restrictions which have been placed on us mean that we will have, in total, to lose two journalism posts in the Highlands. That said, BBC Scotland has never had a greater newsgathering commitment to the Highlands and Islands than it does at present, with 21 news staff working on English-language and Gaelic output across TV, radio and online.

“Of those 21, we have 13 newsgathering staff covering Gaelic output from Inverness, Skye and Wester Ross, Argyll, Stornoway and Uist, while another eight news staff based in Inverness work largely on English-language output.

“In addition to those 21, we also have a further team of 19 presenters and production staff who are part of the overall output teams for Inverness.

“These numbers show that Highlands and Islands has a considerable amount of BBC investment in newsgathering and that is in addition to around 200 news staff based elsewhere in Scotland who can augment and add to that core team if there is editorial demand for it.”