BBC to cut 3,000 jobs to invest more in programs

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Thu, Dec 09, 2004 - Page 12

BBC director general Mark Thompson began his campaign to secure the corporation's financial future on Tuesday, making thou-sands of staffers redundant and relocating key departments to Manchester.

In a marked departure from the expansive regime of his predecessor, Greg Dyke, he outlined plans to slim down the corporation and release more money to spend on programs.

"I believe the price of this very considerable change is the right price to pay to achieve the prize of a strong and independent, creative BBC," he said, adding that the BBC would have to adapt to survive in a world with dozens of channels and on-demand viewing.

Thompson promised fewer repeats on BBC1, more money for high-quality drama, comedy, news and current affairs and children's programs and an increased focus on "distinctive" shows.

Two-and-a-half-thousand middle managers and support staff will be made redundant and a further 400 will go in the factual and learning division, the hardest hit by plans to outsource more programs to independent producers.

BBC Sport, children's programming, new media and Radio 5 Live will move to Manchester but the ?500 million (US$973 million) shift will not take place for five years and, warned Thompson, was contingent on a satisfactory license fee settlement.

While staff in London were downcast at the announcement, there was jubilation in the north. The headline of the Evening Standard read in London read "Black Tuesday for jobs" while the Manchester Evening News hailed a "BBC jobs bonanza."

The switch will generate around ?750 million for the regional economy, Manchester city council said, with the city housing the largest broadcasting center outside London.

Under the plans, every BBC department will have its budget cut by an average of 15 percent, but managers were told that if they could hit targets, there would be money in the future to reinvest in programs. More job losses are expected when individual departments deliver their plans in March.

Thompson said the carrot and stick approach was aimed at slimming down the BBC's layers of bureaucracy and creating "a sim-pler organization, a more creative organization."

He promised that the ?320 million in annual savings that he plans to achieve within three years, including ?155 million already identified, would be ploughed back into the schedules.