LETTERS - your thoughts on our stories

Has anything changed?

I would be more impressed by Mark Thompson's latest pledge to find more opportunities for older woman if he had delivered on his previous promises on the issue.

It is now sixteen months since the BBC announced that I was to be one of four older women presenters on the BBC News Channel. Last year I was given fewer than 20 days in the role. This year so far I have been given just one presenting shift.

Those who warned the initiative was nothing more than a PR stunt after the Miriam O'Reilly tribunal are being proved right.

Carole Walker

Political correspondent/BBC News Channel presenter

Mark Thompson replies:

Dear Carole

I was genuinely surprised to read your letter. I have been told by my colleagues in BBC News that both they and you have found it hard to fit the shifts in the News Channel around your other commitments for the BBC. They remain committed to giving you the agreed number of shifts a year if you can fit them in.

This letter and reply do not appear in this week's paper issue of Ariel because they were received too late for publication.

No way to say goodbye to old friend

The last weekend of March saw the end of broadcasts by various WS teams. The close-downs of the Caribbean and Russian services, among others, were marked in an appropriate manner in their final transmissions, so that the BBC said goodbye to listeners with respect for them and dignity for ourselves.

Not so the end to more than 71 years of daily medium wave transmissions from the UK to Europe. Instead, as the final minute of March 26 ticked away, listeners to WS English on 648 kHz heard the usual pre-recorded sequence of trailer, jingle and the canned announcement: 'Wherever you are, you're with the BBC'. Then came the pips. And, at the very stroke of midnight, the signal fell silent.

Aside from the discourtesy of switching off a transmitter without any warning to those listening at the time, this was so disappointing for those like myself who had tuned in specially for the final minutes. It was also out of character for an organisation which normally makes a point of observing such historic moments.

Chris Greenway

BBC Monitoring

One for them, one for us

So the changes to the pensionscheme are going ahead, and we can now have a one to one meeting with KPMG. They admit that 'KPMG pension consultants cannot provide you with any advice on which option is most suitable for you' and that you may need advice from an independent financial advisor at your own cost.

You may remember that the recent publishing of executive expenses showed that the former Radio 4 controller Mark Damazer - one of more than 15 executives - received a sum of around £1175.80 for 'pension advice' following Government changes to regulation. This was to assist them in finding ways to circumvent the new, tighter tax regulations.

Am I not therefore able to claim on my expenses the cost of some genuine independent financial advice on which pension option is best for me out of the various choices on the table? I am struggling to fully see which option is best for my circumstances, but KPMG admit they will not give that advice - so why waste money on these potential useless 1-2-1s in the first place?

Jeremy Buston

Big Screen Manager (NW & NE England)

Jan Killick, head of Pensions, replies:

Executives are not being provided with any independent financial advice as part of the pension reform changes. As the pension changes affect all members of the Scheme, the BBC has given all members the opportunity to attend a one-to-one with a pension consultant to discuss their choices for future benefits. These have been designed to sit alongside and complement the pension seminars, online modeller and the pension service line.

If, after taking all of the available support, members subsequently want financial advice, they will need to speak their own independent financial advisor. Suggested advisors are on the myPension site on Gateway.

* Zarin Patel advises all of us to book a one-to-one session to help us make a decision about the pension changes.

Having discovered that all my local sessions are fully booked for the foreseeable future, can we be assured that resources will be available for all the many thousands of staff to do this by the end of the year?

Also, can she confirm that line managers will be expected to allow us time during our working day to attend these important meetings?

Gordon Findlay

TV News director

Jeff Webley, Pension comms manager, replies:

There's plenty of time for all Scheme members to have a one-to-one before December 31, when the opportunity to join CAB 2011 closes.

Additional locations and future dates are constantly being added to the one-to-one calendar and the resources are available to do this. Please check the myPension site on Gateway for regular updates.

The one-to one meetings will be provided in the workplace in the same way as the pension seminars and time off to attend will be given, subject to operational requirements.

* In his letter to Ariel dated July 27 2010 regarding potential conflicts of interest among the Pension Trustees, Jeremy Peat, Chair of Trustees, stated that: 'The Trustees have agreed with Zarin Patel and Caroline Thomson that each will stand down from all Pension Trustee discussions in relation to Scheme changes, funding matters and all matters related to the triennial valuation.'

Can someone please put my mind to rest, and confirm that these members of the BBC Executive Board did not participate in making the 'prudent assumptions' that have had such a significant impact on the apparent deficit?

Adrian Chinery

senior Investigations engineer

Jeremy Peat, chair of Pension Trustees, replies:

The assumptions, whilst they have ultimately to be agreed with the BBC, are initially determined by the Trustees, with help from the actuary. I can confirm that neither Zarin Patel nor Caroline Thomson took part in any of the Trustees' discussions when they were considering what assumptions would be appropriate. Zarin Patel subsequently agreed the assumptions on behalf of the BBC.

Hear me out

I'm delighted to see audibility issues discussed in Ariel (March 29) but I think John Machin's letter misunderstands the work we have been doing on this subject. Our new detailed research into the issues affecting audibility means that we have issued extensive new training, advice and recommendations on how to improve audibility at every stage of the production process.

We believe these steps can improve audio for all viewers - whatever their age or the nature of their tv set-up. Full details can be found on the College of Production website.

Danny Cohen

Controller, BBC One

Wheel stealers

On Monday March 28, three of us had our bicycles stolen from the North Gate cycle racks.

It transpires the thief/thieves, gained access to the bike racks with ease on three separate occasions and in broad daylight. Operating just a few feet from the security guard's cabin - and in sight of at least one security camera - he/they managed to cut the D-locks/cables securing three bicycles and carry them out of the gate without being challenged.

It is now our understanding that there have been eight further thefts of bicycles from the North Gate cycle racks in the last two weeks alone, and many more over the past year. However, it seems Workplace has done nothing to deal with this security weakness or to warn cyclists to keep their machines elsewhere.

The presence of the security cabin and guard on site give staff a false sense of security. Although there are windows in the cabin overlooking the bike racks, it is now our understanding that the guard is not tasked to observe the racks.

Julian Joyce, Roger Sawyer and Stuart Hughes,


Kate Smith, customer service director, BBC Workplace, replies: Cyclists using the North Gate area do need to secure their bikes as they would if they were leaving them on public racks on Wood Lane; lcc.org.uk (London Cycling Campaign) gives advice on how best to secure your bike.

We're refreshing the signage in the area to remind users of this and are looking at areas within the TVC campus where further racking could be installed. Meanwhile, if you find the North Gate shed is full, there's more cycle racking provided within the secure perimeter, adjacent to the satellite platforms and EBX Block, accessible via MacFarlane Gate.

Our W12 security team have, on many occasions, prevented cycle thefts and provided evidence to support investigations, but their priority has to be the safety and security of those working in and visiting our buildings and BBC property.


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