Raymond Snoddy on media: BBC's bow to independents is sleight of hand

This week, the foundations of the BBC will crumble with the submission to the governors of proposals for thousands of job losses. Will it be the most radical transformation in the Corporation's history or a damp squib to create the illusion of change and bamboozle the government?

All the signs are that it will be the BBC's usual smoke and mirrors approach, rather than a thorough look at working practices. The great plan amounts to little more than seeking joint ventures for, or full privatisation of, BBC Broadcast, which is responsible for everything from broadcast play-outs to subtitling, and BBC Resources. The wheeze is almost an open secret, with chief operating officer John Smith even telling Ariel, the BBC's staff newspaper, that he was open to suggestions on the issue.

What a result. Without really trying, thousands of jobs are taken off the BBC payroll and transferred, on the same terms, to a body that would contract its services back to the BBC. The model is already in place in the shape of BBC Technology. The same people come to work in the same place, in the same way - they just aren't BBC staffers anymore.

Without careful scrutiny there is a danger of the BBC paying more for services formerly run in-house, although a key ingredient included in the deal for BBC Technology was a guarantee of substantial savings.

Watch out, then, for all the dire predictions of major job losses turning out to be little more than a structural sleight of hand. And, just in case the government is not impressed, BBC management can always deploy the independent shuffle.

For a BBC that has found it difficult to meet its 25% independent quota, it is remarkable that it should offer to put another 25% of production out to competition. This means, in theory, that the independent sector could corner up to 50% of non-news and current affairs output.

So, why are the indies less than ecstatic?

It goes like this: one reason that the number of BBC staff soared to 28,000 under Greg Dyke was the move to turn freelance workers into staffers.

According to some estimates, as many as 6000 could have been involved.

So, another wave of the wand and thousands of staffers can be turned back into freelances. Naturally, these voluntary freelances would take contracts for independent productions with them. So, the number of BBC staff melts and the independent quota rises to 35% or even 40%, with only 3% of real resources transferred to the existing independent sector, according to independent producers organisation Pact.

The third wheeze involves the transfer of mainstream services such as Radio Five Live to Manchester, which will actually lead to increased costs.

The future of the governors will be determined by what sort of BBC emerges from the current activity. Above all, they had better be sure the manipulation of jobs being planned adds up to more than window-dressing.

The trouble is that everyone has painted themselves into a corner by the promise of announcements on 7 December. This is insane. After all, the government's Green Paper of proposals isn't due until early next year. The BBC should come up with its own 'green paper', instead of decisions.

If the governors do not demand proper business plans on the implications and costings of all these wheezes, they do not deserve to survive. And if this takes longer than 7 December, so be it.


- The BBC sources its programmes from in-house programme makers, the independent production sector and freelance contributors. It is required to source 25% of commissions from the independent/freelance sectors.

- BBC-made programmes include The Office and Strictly Come Dancing. Independently-produced shows include Have I Got News for You? and those from freelance contributors include Clocking Off and The Vicar of Dibley.

- As part of the BBC's vision for its future, it has committed to a fairer partnership with the independent/freelance sector, including establishing a level playing field between in-house and independent programme makers in all areas.

- It also plans to exceed the 25% independent quota across all genres - the independent sector already accounts for more than 50% of commissioning in entertainment programming.


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now


Oasis #springasmile digital campaign gets people doing good deeds
Coca-Cola: 'Don't approach bloggers with a fait accompli'
Tesco CMO Matt Atkinson: 'It is so important not to stereotype mothers'
McDonald's gives Ronald a new look ahead of global 'Fun times' social media push
In pictures: BrewDog opens first craft beer shop BottleDog for 'beer aficionados'
Facebook ad revenue leaps $1bn as it invests in targeting
Malteser or Maltesers? Mars takes Hershey trademark dispute to court
Apple Q2 profits top $10bn as iPhone sales soar
Lynx tells men not to leave love to fate
HBO captures awkwardness of watching sex scenes with parents
Primark to open first US stores with Boston chosen as flagship location
Marketing spend on the up but a reality check is needed before celebrating
Top 10 ads of the week: Jackpotjoy and BT Broadband fend off Kevin Bacon
Lidl beats Tesco to 10m Facebook fans
Center Parcs ad banned for encouraging parents to take kids out of school
Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Amazon named top brands for targeting youth market
Leaked document shows Nokia to be rebranded as Microsoft Mobile
Nike lays-off hardware staff in move that casts doubt on future of FuelBand
Greenpeace says save the bees or humans will die
What brands need to know about changes to VAT and online downloads in 2015
Jimmy Savile victims urged to claim compensation in new ad campaign
UKIP launches biggest  ad campaign and stirs up 'racist' accusations
Apple boss Tim Cook provides voiceover on ad touting firm's renewed green commitments
John Lewis walks consumers through its history to celebrate 150 years of business
Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers