North of the border, BBC cuts will hit hard

From the outside, BBC Scotland’s new, £180m headquarters looks unappealingly like an extravagant greenhouse. Inside the glass and concrete structure, beyond the broad, dressed sandstone staircase which dominates the interior, the atmosphere is more akin to a call centre than ‘Europe’s most state-of-the-art broadcasting centre’which BBC managers claim for it.

From the outside, BBC Scotland controller, Ken McQuarrie’s portrayal of a programme of efficiency savings looks benign. Underneath the surface is a poorly disguised project to discard dozens of the best qualified, most experienced and better paid broadcasting staff in Scotland and replace them with considerably younger, more poorly paid reporters and producers who will be expected to carry the workload of three or more of their predecessors.

Undressed, the redundancy figures presented by McQuarrie to staff in Scotland last Thursday left many of them stunned. Some 230 posts are to be closed north of the border. An additional 32 producers are facing compulsory redundancy in the coming weeks in ‘unfinished business’from the three-year Value For Money job cutting programme which director general Mark Thompson implemented in 2005 and which triggered the strike across the BBC in May of that year.

As a percentage of the workforce, the number of jobs to be lost closely mirrors other areas of the BBC, even London. So much for the ‘pleasant surprise’that much of the corporation was promised by Thompson in an interview earlier this month with the BBC’s staff magazine, Ariel.

Ken McQuarrie told staff that 130 new posts will be created in the coming years but that in the meantime, it will not be possible to avoid compulsory redundancies. Some of his departmental heads are, on the face of it, seeking to be a little more imaginative and are looking for budget cuts elsewhere rather than resorting to a ‘head count cull’on jobs.

However, those jobs which remain and the new posts which managers say will be created – only once the initial cuts have been made – promise to be alarmingly more complex, stressful and less secure. That picture is likely to be reflected in dozens of newsrooms, studios and production offices throughout the BBC in the coming months, if the experience of the first six months working at the new Pacific Quay building in Glasgow is anything to go by.

NUJ members at BBC Scotland – the bulk of them concentrated in the newsroom at the top of the staircase, the open-plan and curiously named ‘Street’– have already complained of massively heightened stress from the sudden, frequent technical equipment failures in the new building.

These have ranged from a TV news bulletin being interrupted by the overspill from a civic reception to mark the official opening of the building, through to software-driven radio production desks seizing up during live programmes.

Managers expect it will take six months to resolve the technical problems which have faced many programme makers since the building opened. Life was not going to get any easier, even before the job cuts.

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