Latest Ariel Letters

Week 43

Scrap any plans

I am going to miss the seminar on UPA reform I'm booked on this week, because I've been unexpectedly sent away. All my plans for the week have been abandoned. I am missing parents' evening, too. I hear from colleagues some of the themes emerging from these seminars though, and I don't quite see how they square with your pledge that staff 'won't lose out'.

There is talk of freezing UPA. With inflation running at 5%, how is this anything other than a pay cut? I understand incorporating a proportion of UPA into pensionable pay has been ruled out. If so, how can any 'consolidation' at anything less than 100% be anything other than a pay cut?

You promised to be fair. I sit next to colleagues who perform an identical job on the same pay grade. Historically some have been 'bought out' and offered SFS. Others haven't and continue to receive UPA. How can cutting the pay of the latter, and leaving the former untouched, be remotely fair?

I write this from a caravan 'embedded' with travellers on Dale Farm, waiting to film their eviction. It is cold. I have had very little sleep. I will be eating lukewarm boil-in-the-bag ready meals for the next 48 hours. Without people like me, willing to cover stories like these, News would simply fall off air.

I agree that we should work flexibly. And I agree that UPA should be reformed. But the 'reform' you promise appears to mean cutting the pay of thousands of hard working journalists. And that's a mistake.

Tony Smith

video journalist, Newsgathering

The BBC needs properly to compensate people who are called in at short or no notice to keep output on air, as well as those whose family life is disrupted by working late evenings, nights and weekends.

Without flexibility allowances such as UPA it will become much harder for the corporation to recruit and retain staff for these vital roles. What the BBC genuinely cannot afford are the stratospheric sums paid to executives carrying out back-office functions.

Robin Edwards

SBJ, Radio Newsroom

Who spoke up for Brum

My questions relate to the proposal to move the rump of network factual production from Birmingham to Bristol with the consequent loss of up to 150 jobs.

I have reviewed the network production job losses in the National Regions and the rest of England and there seem to be few, if any, network jobs lost there. The BBC makes great play of the fact that all of the country pays the licence fee, not just the south east. How can it make sense to spend vast sums of money - quite rightly - moving production jobs out of London to Salford, Glasgow and Cardiff only to get rid of existing network programme makers in regional centres?

I assume Tom Archer, with a long standing and demonstrated commitment to Bristol production in the BBC and the indie sectors, did not decide alone what his area's contribution was to be to the overall proposals. He was fortunate to have an eloquent advocate of the Natural History Unit in Andrew Jackson already working in his department.

In the final cuts proposals process who was the champion of Birmingham in these discussions?

Tom Ross

BBC London, Glasgow and Pebble Mill 1971-1996

Tom Archer, controller, Factual Production, replies:

It's worth being clear that there will not be 150 post closures from network production in the regions as a result of this move. In the network TV team, the majority of staff will be offered jobs in Bristol, and we hope that many of them will decide to move with their programmes.

While there will be a small number of post closures in management and post-production, we do need to make the new, combined base more efficient and contribute to the BBC's overall savings targets.

At the end of the process, there will still be well over 400 jobs in Birmingham with network TV and Radio Drama (Doctors, Land Girls, The Archers), Midlands Today, BBC WM and the Asian Network based at the Mailbox. In addition, the share of commissioning money that the BBC spends with indies in the West Midlands will be increased.

The plan to close Birmingham Factual was put forward by the DQF Creative UK workstream, which concluded that it makes creative business sense to rationalise the number of network production hubs across the UK to create bases that can thrive with economies of scale.

I can ensure you that Birmingham had many champions during the process, but the overwhelming logic is to grow Bristol, which is already home to the world-leading NHU and a strong indie and postproduction sector, as a major centre of excellence for docs and features alongside Cardiff.

Localness loses out

In 15 years at the BBC I've never written to Ariel, and I prefer to champion the BBC not moan about it, but we have to stick up for local audiences who are in danger of being passed by in the decision to cut local programmes.

Around me are people who regularly work 12 hour days, who move their lives around to cover local stories and who are passionate about serving local audiences. On air, right now, our listeners are telling us what they think about the eviction at Dale Farm, and when the rest of the media goes home, we'll still be reflecting all aspects of life in our county.

Local audiences deserve quality output, comprehensive coverage of their local area and the same respect given to listeners of more 'elite' services but local programming is facing disproportionate cuts. We could lose a sixth of our staff at BBC Essex and local programming in the afternoon could end. This is being billed as a cosy arrangement called 'sharing' but in reality it means there'll be limited space for coverage of local arts and culture and a huge hole is blown in our unique selling point, our localness.

Elsewhere in the BBC we hear that contributors are paid for appearing on air, taxis laid on for guests and bikes and cars used to ferry presenters to studios. If other bits of the BBC can afford to do this, why don't local audiences deserve a local service throughout the day?

I thought we were protecting core services and yet the leanest operation is facing the biggest cut.

Lynne Wilson

assistant editor, BBC Essex

David Holdsworth, controller, English Regions, replies:

Making savings under DQF in Local Radio has been a real challenge but we have given a commitment to protect core programming and I believe that is what these proposals do.

It is not correct to say Local Radio is 'facing the biggest cut' - Mark Thompson tasked the whole BBC to save 20% whereas in Local Radio the average saving is 12%, although I appreciate this will not make it any easier for those staff and services that are affected.

Less of the North

BBC sends lots of staff and departments North to Salford. BBC viewers in the North get less original local programming on TV & Radio.

Anyone else spot the DQF irony?

Chris Jackson

senior producer, BBC Newcastle

Paper cut

It was with shock and sadness that I learnt of the closure of the print edition of Ariel. Having spent some time working at Ariel last year I know how hard working and committed the team is, and how pleased people are when their projects get a mention in the paper.

Reading Ariel makes you feel part of the BBC as a whole, aware of the achievements outside your own office and keeps you up to date on important internal decisions.

I understand that cost-savings have to be found, but surely some senior salaries could be looked at rather than hitting the things that matter to the average staff member?

Ariel both celebrates and challenges the BBC, and encourages the 'one BBC' idea more than anything else I've seen. And what else are you supposed to read while you strum your fingers on the desk waiting for your computer to log-in?

Kate Arkless Gray

former BBC

I was sorry to hear of the passing of the print edition of Ariel. It stirred memories of when I was a media production student at the University of Salford - when MediaCityUK was an idea and an empty space on the waterfront and I was looking to get my first rung on the ladder. The kindly commissionaires and receptionist at BBC Manchester on Oxford Road would always provide me with a copy which I'd study for any insider information and job opportunities.

Sadly the same can't be said of BBC Leeds - I popped in for my copy only to be politely denied. Still, just under 10 years and a number of regulation grey forms later, I was pleased to have uninhibited access to the exclusive publication.

So farewell then to the print edition of Ariel. I hope inventive students find a way to find electronic copies in due course.

Henry Devereux

scheduler, BBC Arabic and BBC Persian Television

Give it up for the BBC

I'm quite excited to hear that the BBC wants to bring our terms and conditions into line with the commercial media sector.

Having worked for a commercial broadcaster in the past and thinking back to what I chose to give up to work for the BBC, I can't wait to get share options, bonuses, free private healthcare, decent expenses and a free TV licence. These would be almost comparable to what I had before. Or perhaps I've missed something in the subtlety of that announcement.

David James

Technology manager, Transmission & Distribution


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