SWINGEING staff cuts at BBC Scotland has left morale at “rock bottom” among staff and could undermine the coverage of the independence referendum campaign, MSPs were warned today.
• BBC facing 16 per cent cut in budget in the next five years with 120 posts earmarked for the axe in Scotland
• Cuts described as ‘not uniform’ across the BBC’s newsrooms, with radio news and current affairs experiencing a 60 per cent drop in staff in recent years
• Finger pointed at management in Scotland as former Radio Scotland producer expresses fears over independence referendum coverage
Some workers are even being “targeted” by management in the redundancy drive to clear out faces that don’t fit, Holyrood’s culture committee was told.
Former Radio Scotland producer Peter Murray branded the BBC “irresponsible” over the cuts and said they have led to a fall in the “breadth and depth” of its programmes.
The situation is also worse in Scotland than other parts of the corporation south of the border which have remained unscathed. The corporation is facing a 16% budget cut over the five year period to 2016 and up 120 posts have been earmarked for the axe in Scotland.
The BBC has pledged there will be no drop in the hours of news and current affairs coverage, but Mr Murray of the NUJ, said this comes as staff are being cut in “substantial numbers.”
“We believe that will have a detrimental effect on the breadth and depth of output that is possible from BBC Scotland newsrooms,” he told MSPs.
The cuts are “not uniform” across BBC newsrooms, Mr Murray said, adding that radio news and current affairs has seen a 60% drop in staff numbers in recent years.
“That does not compare favourably with similar programmes, for example, the World at One and PM on Radio 4 where their staff count has remained pretty well static,” he added.
“The cuts are not even – we don’t believe that they reflect BBC-wide cuts.”
Referendum debate and constitutional change a ‘wonderful’ opportunity
The looming referendum debate and constitutional change is a “wonderful” opportunity, according to Mr Murray, who said bosses in Glasgow should be seeking more money from the BBC centrally.
The referendum will be two year process, he added, which could see the “most serious constitutional change in Scotland in hundreds of years.”
He added: “Simply to regard that as something akin to a by-election we think is frankly irresponsible.”
Workers targeted by management
Management is also using the reductions to get rid of particular people.
“The staff cuts are being quite obviously targeted at individuals that management has decided they don’t want to be there any longer,” he said.
The interview process to assess redundancies is “unfair, irrelevant or deliberately targeting individuals” he added.
“That’s very, very worrying that they’re using this process of redundancies as a way of clearing out people that they no longer want.”
Paul McManus of BECTU said the BBC has already been through severe staff cuts in recent years.
“The BBC simply can’t deliver the same level of output in Scotland as it has done in previous years,” he said.
“You cannot lose 17 staff out of the news and current affairs department and deliver the same level of service.”
The corporation is facing a 20% cut in its budget as licence fee increases are pegged and it takes on responsibility for funding the world service from the Foreign Office and the Welsh language channel S4C.
In Scotland the cuts are being implemented quickly in an effort to ease the pain later on, but Mr Murray warned this is having a “dramatic impact” on staff.
“The staff morale is pretty much at rock bottom. People say it’s no longer a pleasant place to work, people are fearful for their jobs, people are fearful of speaking out publicly which is one of the reasons I’m here rather one of the current NUJ reps.”
“The BBC is supposed to be a model employer, not a terrible employer. At the moment people are saying the BBC has become a terrible employer.”
Asked about whether he was pointing the finger at management in Scotland or London, Mr Murray: “The problem is in Scotland – very definitely here.”
A BBC spokesperson added: “Despite claims made in front of the Education and Culture committee, it is not true to suggest there has been a 60% reduction in News and Current Affairs staffing in Scotland.
“Nor is it true to suggest that individual members of staff have personally been targeted as we seek to reduce our overall budgets through reductions in staffing.
“BBC Scotland is facing the same level of cuts as other parts of the organisation. At the end of the current financial year, News and Current Affairs will continue to have more than 200 staff working across 10 centres in Scotland.
“We continue to engage constructively with the unions and staff about the proposed reduction of 17 posts from our news and current affairs department across the whole of Scotland.”