'Absolutely murderous' and 'the worst day in the BBC's history' was trade union Bectu's predictable reaction to last week's news that the BBC intends to cut 2050 programming jobs. Yet the detail in the announcement has only served to highlight how bloated the BBC is, prompting calls for further cuts.
BBC News is to shed 420 jobs - 12% of its workforce - which reveals that it currently employs 3500 staff. This compares with 790 for ITN, which provides news programming for ITV and Channel 4, and 460 at Sky News, which covers the Sky channels and Five. Meanwhile, The Telegraph, publisher of the UK's leading quality newspaper, recently cut 17% of its journalists and now covers its seven-day operation - news, production and features - with only 431 staff.
Those with first-hand knowledge of the BBC's duplication in its news-gathering, such as PRs and politicians, are not surprised by the department's scale. One head of corporate PR for a FTSE-100 firm says the number of calls received from the BBC on any story exceed the rest of the media combined: 'We get the same questions, same requests for interviews from the myriad BBC departments. It is a hugely inefficient operation, funded by public money.'
Outside of programming, the BBC is to make deeper cuts, with 1730 jobs going in professional services - 46% of that workforce. This includes marketing, communications and audiences, which currently employs 450, dwarfing the UK marketing staff of power consumer brands such as McDonald's (18), Ford (30), Coca-Cola (40), Boots (100) and Sainsbury's (200).
The BBC might justify its numbers as the level needed to support its £300m-£400m annual advertising budget; the estimated commercial value of its on-air promotions. But, by comparison, the UK's biggest TV advertiser, Procter & Gamble, spent £164m last year. Unilever spent £109m and the government marketing section, the COI, spent £82m.
The BBC aims to cut 25% of its marketing staff, but incoming marketing director Tim Davie, former marketing chief at PepsiCo Europe, may feel more ambitious. When he joins on 11 April, he will find 13 senior executives reporting directly to him, including a head of marketing nations and regions, a head of genre brands marketing, and even his own financial and personnel directors.
Davie would not be the only one to believe that more swingeing cuts are in order. With a general election just weeks away, should a Conservative government come to power, the BBC can expect a more demanding paymaster.
John Whittingdale, shadow secretary for culture, media and sport, claims the BBC is 'grossly overmanned' and its staffing levels should be benchmarked against commercial broadcasters. He also questions why the BBC needs three years to carry out the announced cuts.
Furthermore, he believes the £355m annual savings should be used to cut the licence fee. A Conservative government, he adds, would implement wide reforms of the BBC, virtually tearing up Tessa Jowell's Green Paper, which he suspects was a deal of political convenience.
For starters, there would be no 10-year guarantee of the licence fee.
Instead, alternative funding mechanisms would be explored and implemented as soon as possible. 'A transfer to a wholly voluntary subscription model would depend on things like digital take-up, but it could be introduced over time. There is no reason why BBC Three and BBC Four could not be subscription channels,' says Whittingdale.
Jowell has outlined a timetable for digital switchover to take place between 2007 and 2012, but Whittingdale believes this to be a hasty and ill-thought-out move. 'The government's original criterion for switchover was that there would be 95% digital penetration. It now admits that cannot be achieved, but insists we go ahead anyway. Even if everyone buys a Freeview box for their main set, millions of other sets will become redundant. One in five is a portable model, and their aerials are not good enough to receive a digital signal. There could be a consumer revolt.'
He also doubts claims that freeing up the analogue signal will generate a £2bn windfall for the government. Instead, he says recent expert analysis suggests the benefit could be negligible.
Introducing the Green Paper, Jowell warned the BBC should 'not play copycat, or chase ratings for ratings' sake, or put legitimate businesses at peril'.
Whittingdale wants this enshrined in a White Paper, with the BBC's public service broadcasting remit monitored by the type of independent regulator advocated by Lord Burns in his Charter review.
This is the key issue for advertisers, according to Jim Marshall, chairman of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising's (IPA) Media Futures Group: 'The BBC's remit needs to be spelt out, identifying the type of programmes it should be making. It should be regulated, with severe penalties for infringement. If the BBC is not accountable, the Green Paper is just a fudge.'
Furthermore, says Whittingdale, the BBC should not be involved in activities such as magazine and book publishing: 'The BBC can derive value by licensing (its) brands to commercial publishers, but there is no justification for it to be directly involved in that business.'
He adds that a Conservative government would toughen up the 'cosmetic' changes to the BBC's governance proposed in the Green Paper, including the task of ensuring impartiality.
Impartiality is a sensitive issue in this pre-election period, and Whittingdale claims the BBC has an inherent anti-Tory bias. 'It is not conscious, it is institutionalised. But, now it has everything it wanted from the government in the Green Paper, one can expect that will further influence its political views.'
Bectu's assessment of last week's blood-letting is clearly flawed. The worst day in the BBC's history could yet prove to be the day Michael Howard takes the keys to Number 10.