Do Thompson's numbers add up?

National headlines reflected uncertainty over how many jobs will go

The BBC director general’s pledge to boost news and current affairs while cutting budgets and jobs doesn’t add up, journalists claim.

After hearing Mark Thompson announce cuts of £320 million a year by 2007 – with a 15 per cent contribution expected from the news department – journalists were left wondering how the BBC is to make cuts while at the same time drawing up a wish list for future investment.

“That’s the circle that everyone is going to have to square, but how they do it is anyone’s guess,” said one senior source.

While the promise of long-term investment in the BBC’s “commanding reputation” for journalism, and the cutting back of bureaucracy was welcomed, there was concern among senior news managers that a 15 per cent reduction will be extremely difficult to achieve.

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: “You can’t save 15 per cent from any department without sacking people.” The union would take industrial action if redundancies are compulsory, it said.

Dear added: “Some of the top brass in the BBC seem to think they have got to strip away or sell off whole areas of staffing and production to keep the Government happy.”

Previous targets of seven per cent cuts, agreed under former director general Greg Dyke to save £155 million, would have resulted in up to 200 news jobs being axed. There are fears that the additional £165 million asked for across the BBC could result in twice that number going.

Thompson announced plans to strengthen the BBC’s presence in the Middle East and the Islamic world, with a new bureau in Saudi Arabia said to be high on the wish list. It is thought that the capacity of some bureaux might be reduced elsewhere in the world.

Plans to scrap the One O’Clock News and replace it with a News 24 simulcast are said to have been abandoned.

However, a reduction in the number of specialist correspondents is likely to go ahead, as well as changes in producers’ shift patterns to reduce numbers working on the main bulletins.

The BBC’s nations and regions will also be hard hit by the proposed 15 per cent cuts. Local radio and radio in Northern Ireland have been given a lower target of 10 per cent to achieve. But the rest of the nations and regions will have to hit the 15 per cent target.

One industry source said: “Even a 10 per cent cut would be squeezing something that’s already fit to bust.

Local radio stations are absolutely stretched.”

Some journalists believe the decision to move BBC sport, Radio Five Live and Five Live Sports Extra to Manchester will make the BBC less London-centric. Others are sceptical.

“The big name guests aren’t going to want to trail up to Manchester,” said one insider. “Of course they can do them down the line but it’s not the same doing an interview when you don’t get eye contact.”

Another source said: “I can’t imagine that presenters like Nicky Campbell or Simon Mayo are going to want to move.”

Panorama got a vote of approval by Thompson, who pledged that there would be more money and slots for the programme. A decision about whether it would be moved from its Sunday slot to midweek is expected before Christmas.

By Julie Tomlin

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