Magazine article The Spectator

Curious Timing

Magazine article The Spectator

Curious Timing

Article excerpt

No time is right to announce job losses, but picking just before Christmas seems to be favoured by many companies. One can't help wondering if there's sound business sense behind it or if it can be attributed to the streak of sadism that runs through British life. When last week the BBC director-general, Mark Thompson, chose to unveil his plans to remove up to 5,000 people from its payroll, I imagine a number of Christmases were blighted. Assuming this figure I've quoted is correct. I've seen several different totals and interpretations: 2,900 actual losses from mainly administrative departments, such as marketing, training and human resources, with another 2,400 staff 'outsourced' when some BBC commercial areas are sold or become joint ventures.

It had to happen, of course. The BBC has been overstaffed since the 1950s, and not just with administrators. It has been incapable of reining itself in. With every new expansion, from BBC 2 and local radio to digital radio and television channels, staffing has risen to accommodate it. The licence fee has risen accordingly, but it couldn't last and indeed more redundancies are threatened in March, this time in radio and television news. One would like to think that these cuts are being made because they are the right thing to do, but it's also clear that the BBC wishes to appease the government, which is reviewing the corporation's royal charter before deciding whether or not to renew it in 2007. Thompson said on Today the following morning that these measures would have been taken regardless of the charter review, but I don't really believe it.

Moving BBC sport and Radio Five Live to Manchester seems unwise to me. Thompson believes that the BBC has neglected the north of England and, in consequence, the north feels alienated from the BBC. He might be right, but I can't see how. There are regional television programmes and local radio in the north. Radio and television comedies often feature northern speech. More and more announcers have northern accents. Even the actors in a recent Radio Four play set in Paris had to have northern voices, and, as I wrote in last week's issue, broadcasters are encouraged to use the flat 'a' even though they're from the south. Five Live uses a variety of different accents as long as they don't faintly resemble posh. I fear that in time Five Live will come to sound like a regional network. While some of its staff might like the idea of moving to Manchester, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that many don't and might already be looking for the exit signs. …

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