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Mark Thompson on Industrial Action by NUJ

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Mark Thompson Mark Thompson | 06:00 UK time, Friday, 5 November 2010

The National Union of Journalists has called a 48 hour strike of BBC journalists for Friday and Saturday. Much of the output of the BBC is unaffected by this action.  However, it is inevitable that some programmes and content will be disrupted. I would like to apologise wholeheartedly for this and assure you that we are doing everything we can to bring you as much as possible of our usual programming.

We will provide regular updates on-air and at www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice of programmes that are affected.

I would like to explain how we reached this position. The strike is about changes to our pension scheme, changes which have been accepted by the majority of unions. These changes were necessary to deal with a pension deficit which, like many other schemes, is due to the performance of financial markets and the fact that people are living longer.

We first put forward initial proposals to change the BBC Pension Scheme in June. (You can read more on the reasons why changes are needed in a blog by Zarin Patel, Chief Financial Officer). Since then, we have consulted and listened to staff, and brought in changes to our proposals as a result.

We have made clear this is our final offer and that we can make no more changes without imposing an unacceptable burden on Licence Fee payers.

Four out of the five unions have accepted our revised offer, and this is also reflected in feedback from staff. The NUJ alone, which represents 17% of staff, have voted to reject the offer and go on strike. We do not know how many NUJ members voted to reject the agreement in the consultative ballot but it was almost certainly a minority of the total NUJ membership - and certainly a very small percentage of the BBC workforce as a whole.

It has never been more important to ensure the BBC is spending every penny of Licence Fee payers money wisely and delivering the quality programmes and services audiences want. We believe the current pension proposals are realistic and affordable, and will provide fair pension provision for BBC staff for the future.

This has been a difficult period for staff. However, the people who lose out most in any strike action are the very people we are here to serve - our audiences. Again, I apologise for the disruption. We will do everything in our power to bring you as much as possible of our usual programming and services.

Mark Thompson is BBC Director-General

The BBC Press Office website will be publishing regular service announcements and statements about the NUJ industrial action.

You can also follow the @bbcpress and @AboutTheBBC Twitter feeds for updates.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Radio 2 seem to be running a reduced news service this morning, with no bulletins at __:30, and Alan Dedicode reading the news at the top of hour bulletins, instead of Moira Stuart. Is that related to this industrial action?

  • Comment number 2.

    Mark,

    I have two simple questions I sincerely hope you will answer.

    1) What is the true level of the BBC pensions deficit? You have said £2bn, Zarin Patel has said £1bn, the NUJ believes it to be closer to £1bn. What's the truth? Surely this is a fundamental issue that needs to be sorted out before reforms are made to the scheme. And why don't you wait to make reforms until you know the true level of the deficit?

    2) Are you able to justify the huge hikes in executive pay and pensions you have overseen at the BBC? Your salary alone is twice that of your predecessor. So you talk about the need to balance the books, having overseen unprecedented levels of pay at the top. Surely it's little wonder that your staff feel resentful and believe they are being asked to take the pain of cuts when you, on an 800k plus package are not.

    I also believe it's true that the NUJ represents 80% of journalists at the BBC.

    Thanks - I eagerly await your response.

  • Comment number 3.

    what a breath of fresh air.no simpering williams,no strictly turnbull just news provided in a crip and succint manner.please keep this format.
    tweak it just a bit,leave out the sports bloke,the news guy can read the results.

  • Comment number 4.

    Please do not settle the NUJ strike. My wife turned on the television this morning and instead of the normal trite nonsense from smug Bill and soppy Sian there was actual news. Utterly brilliant and long may it last. This is true public service broadcasting; 'Today' with pictures and without egos!

  • Comment number 5.

    In my previous comment I failed to mention the sports coverage, and must agree with steve d's earlier comment that the 'news guy' could just as easily give us the information. Why do we have to have the normal puerile ill-educated twerps waffling about sports of which they have no knowledge apart from the nerdish statistical-based type. Double your salary, halve the pensions and let the moaners shuffle off to reality TV shows - their natural home!

  • Comment number 6.

    I hope that the NUJ members at the BBC realise that the only people they are hurting are themselves, the fact that the BBC seems to have settled this issue with the other unions and can also keep news bulletins on-air suggests to the public that the BBC is indeed over staffed! OK the level and depth of the news coverage might have been affected but for many it will be breath of fresh air, news as it should be, without the hyperbolic hype, most typically expressed by the phrase "We will have much more on this [story] later" (when all that will happen is that the same script will be re-read and the same video will be re-shown), or the spoon-feeding even the most basic of facts just to pad-out a story and no doubt justify someone's job.

    I would also like to echo the sentiment, but not the words, of "cgarmchairpundit" @5; why does the BBC need to have sports presenters when the sports news could be read by the newscaster? The BBC should have a very hard, close, look at its news presentation style, being a Public Service Broadcaster it doesn't (shouldn't) need to compete for ratings, it's only measurable goal should be excellence in reporting on radio, on TV and on-line.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    I sincerely hope that you aqre considering disciplinary action against those journalists who don't turn up to work, either because they are on strike or out of some misguided sympathy.

    Many of your "top talent" journalists are grossly overpaid anyway (not withstanding arguments about market rates etc) and I suspect you could easily do without several of them.

    Your news setup seems bloated to me : exactly how many BBC staff were at the mine in Chile - there seemed at times to be more BBC reporters and camera crews than rescuers! And we couldn't even see all the bag-carriers and back-up people, let alone know how much it all cost to transport, feed and house them!

    Richard Bosdet

  • Comment number 9.

    I support the BBC's position 100%. Most of the "names" who are taking part in the action are overpaid and under-talented in any case. Would anyone really miss Huw Edwards flat, monotonous delivery? Not I...

    Don't budge BBC. We can tolerate a few more days like today for the right deal to be made (which is already what is on offer).

  • Comment number 10.

    Mr Thompson,

    Would I be correct in thinking that your pension is not from the same scheme as the journalists?
    If this is so then please explain why.

    Regards etc

  • Comment number 11.

    Demographics don't lie. An aging population means the employer cost of providing a final salary pension is rising exponentially. It is unfair and unreasonable to expect the license paying public to sustain a pension that was established when pension funding was to circa age 75 and now has to extend to age 85 and rising.

    The private sector had to bite this bullet 10 years ago; adjustments in the public sector are long overdue. The NUJ are making no friends with their short sighted intransigence...

  • Comment number 12.

    10. At 2:08pm on 05 Nov 2010
    My comment appears to be in extended moderation. The link below goes part way to answering my civil and to the point question that may or may not see the light of day later on.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/aboutthebbc/2010/06/changes-to-the-bbc-pension-sch.shtml#P97888577

  • Comment number 13.

    Mark

    I'm glad, although a little surprised, that you linked to Ms Patel's blog. Did you read the comments and their answers that you have now directed the Licence payer to? Are you aware of just how little effort Ms Patel has put in with regard to explaining her proposals? Of course I am not expecting you to answer these questions, just as Ms Patel and Ms Adams refused to engage with licence payers. Why do you think you are in this mess?

  • Comment number 14.

    You say
    "It has never been more important to ensure the BBC is spending every penny of Licence Fee payers money wisely and delivering the quality programmes and services audiences want."

    I agree, but for quality programmes you need quality journalists, not overpaid executives.

    £800k/pa you should be ashamed of yourself, talking about "every Penny" —

    Real people are suffering because of the bankers failures and are actually looking after every penny, yet some on massive salaries, with no doubt safe pensions are telling hard working people they won't get the pension they've planned for, as the Americans say "yours must be THIS big!"

  • Comment number 15.

    Mr Thompson you really should not give in to those on strike many of whom are overpaid. I have dipped into News 24 several times today and watched Breakfast. It has been so refreshing - straightforward reporting, non aggressive interviews with intelligent questions and interviewees actually given the opportunity to answer questions. My husband and I have also found it very interesting to assess the 'new' talent. Without mentioning names we often wonder why some of your 'experienced' journalists and news presenters are regarded by the corporation as so good and worth so much money. Congratulations on how the 'new' people have coped with today and may we see more of them.

  • Comment number 16.

    BBC journalists are over staffed and overpaid. They have long since stopped reporting the news and now try to make the news and any pretence at impartiality has gone. Time for some sackings to be implemented starting from the top. Soon reduce the pension deficit then.

  • Comment number 17.

    Get back to work, you shower of wasters. Why should the licence payers fund your retirement ? You will doubtless be on a pension worth a lot more than what I pick up when I retire. You have not been missed today, that show's how much you are worth.

  • Comment number 18.

    Hello, thanks for your comments.

    I have the below response from Mark Thompson’s office:

    @akaTommySmith - "The Accounting valuation as published in our 2009/10 annual report and accounts shows a £1.64bn deficit at 31 March 2010. We have been consistent in saying the deficit is at this level.

    The BBC Pension Scheme Trustees are currently working on the valuation for 2010, which will be published next year. However, the BBC expects the 2010 actuarial deficit to be around £1.5bn.

    In October, the NUJ claimed that the Pension Scheme deficit was £1billion. At the time, Jeremy Peat, Chair of the Scheme Trustees, said “We are only beginning discussions with our actuaries over the deficit. I have discussed no figures as yet with the BBC but this figure of £1 billion is not one I recognise.”

    @Kit Green – “We can also confirm that executive pensions are from the same schemes as the rest of staff."

    Best wishes,
    Laura (Editor of the About the BBC blog).

  • Comment number 19.

    Mark says " These changes were necessary to deal with a pension deficit which, like many other schemes, is due to the performance of financial markets and the fact that people are living longer."

    But this is only part of the truth.

    In 2006 the pension scheme was expected to be in balance but the BBC was not planning to increase its contributions significantly until April 2007, leaving the fund short of income worth around £150 million. This was after the BBC, like many organisations , had taken a 14 year pension holiday. The BBC was not the only public or private corporation taking these long pension holidays, however this pension holiday had diminished the BBC pension fund to the tune of £1 billion by 2006. This "vanished pension pot" total of £1.15 billion could have been left as a surplus and would have been worth by now virtually the entire claimed deficit of the pension pot in 2010.

    It is fair to say that changes are necessary to prevent a future deficit in the pension fund because people are living longer. It is not fair to blame performance of financial markets when the current deficit is actually due almost entirely to BBC pension holidays and various government changes from 1999 to date to dividend taxation relating to pension funds.

  • Comment number 20.

    Further Moderation...... What more could I ask?

  • Comment number 21.

    You state, "the people who lose out most in any strike action are the very people we are here to serve - our audiences." We, your viewers/readers/listeners, really don't need your condescending, patronizing remarks. We are best served by having professional journalists reporting the news, without having to worry about how they will survive in their golden years. Pay people a fair wage, don't attack their pensions -- THAT will serve your audiences.

  • Comment number 22.

    Sir : I have today learnt from the Sunday Times that the BBC has had a strike in its News arrangements. That is disgraceful and I would like to know what you intend to do about it.

    Yours Truly

    John Bull

  • Comment number 23.

    The recent strike by the NUJ has shown that the BBC has a significant pool of staff who are well capable of filling the gaps left by the striking TV presenters. Who needs Kate Silverton,Fiona Bruce and all the other grossly overpaid presenters? I am delighted that the licence fee has been frozen as the BBC will now be forced to derail the gravy train.The current problems with the pension scheme could easily have been avoided if the BBC had paid sensible salaries in the first place.The Deputy Director General of the BBC was recently made redundant,he can now enjoy his publicly funded pension of some £200,000 per annum,Enough said.

  • Comment number 24.

    It is somewhat surprising that these 'journalists' are so disconnected from the real world. Reality is cuts, pensions scheme changes, redundancy and that life goes on without you. Get used to it.

  • Comment number 25.

    My husband and I enjoyed the professional and less self promoting approach of the "stand-in" news readers and would recommend you adopt this format in months to come.

  • Comment number 26.

    How on earth can it take 3 days to moderate a blog post (13)?

  • Comment number 27.

    Well, at least other news providers might get a look in if there's more strike action. For a fleeting moment, "free" BBC services won't monopolise the market.

    But of course the BBC is not free - unless you are accessing its services from abroad! – it is paid for by a mandatory tax, the licence fee, and those who provide the service are abusing their position by striking for a luxurious benefit that pretty much no one else in the UK enjoys, certainly not other journalists.

    If these workers' conditions were truly not on a par with the market they would not go on strike, because they could simply take their talent elsewhere - proof that BBC workers' benefits are out of step with the marketplace and are an unfair demand on the taxpayer's already drained purse. Let's pay for the BBC at the point of use and make it compete like everyone else.

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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