Radio 4 protected in BBC cuts


The BBC is to protect high-quality output such as news, drama and Radio 4 from its forthcoming cuts programme by seeking heavy savings from mass-market services such as BBC Two and Radio 1, the corporation will announce this week.

Mark Thompson, the Director-General, will on Thursday reveal the contents of his Delivering Quality First strategy, which will see the corporation announce cuts of around £700 million to the £3.5 billion it currently spends each year.

The savings are necessary after the BBC agreed to freeze the licence fee for six years, and take on the funding of the World Service from the Foreign Office.

Half of the cuts, some £350 million, will come from productivity and efficiency savings, with executives warning that rank and file BBC staff face a “painful” few months. Around 2,500 jobs will be cut from the corporation’s 17,000 employees, with back-office areas such as human resources, marketing and legal departments hardest hit.

The corporation will also drastically reduce the number of senior managers it employs, from 540 to 220, both by redundancies and by downgrading positions to lower-paid staffing grades.

Redundancy payments are to be capped at two years wages, or £75,000, whichever is greater, while perks such as unpredictability allowance, which rewards staff for working flexible hours but costs the corporation £32.5 million a year, will also be cut.

The remaining £350 million will come from cuts to programming, which the BBC refers to as “scope savings”. However, the corporation will announce that it is reinvesting around £140 million of the savings back into its highest-quality output, meaning that some services will effectively be shielded from programming cuts.

In television, the cuts will be focused on the least watched areas of the schedule, including daytime television and programming after 10.35pm. BBC Two will be one of the hardest hit outlets, and will see original daytime shows such as Antiques Roadtrip replaced by repeats from BBC Four, the digital arts channel. But at the same time, BBC One – especially in peak hours – will be bolstered by reinvestment from savings elsewhere.

In radio, it is understood that Radio 4, although subject to efficiency savings in areas such as human resources and marketing, will be spared from the brunt of content cuts, as the corporation looks to champion its highest quality output. However, in order to safeguard the station, which cost £120 million to run last year, the corporation is to impose heavy cuts upon Radio 1 and Radio 2, the mass-market pop music outlets.

Both stations are hugely popular with listeners, with Radio 1 drawing 12 million listeners each week and Radio 2, Britain’s most popular radio station, enjoying audiences of 14 million. But critics have long argued that their output is easily replicated by stations in the commercial sector, such as Capital FM and Heart.

Drama and news, which are spread across the broadcaster’s outlets, will also be protected from the most savage cuts. In news, staffing and back-office costs will be slashed, with hundreds of staff expected to leave and reporters expected to operate across stations and channels. But individual shows such as Newsnight will be funnelled extra cash for programming costs, and could even see their budgets increase.

In other back office areas, the corporation will announce a 30 per cent cut to the amount of property space it occupies, and will seek to move more staff out of London, both to Glasgow and to its new Salford base. The broadcaster has already announced that it wants to sell its iconic Television Centre base, in West London, and is in ongoing talks with Premier League club Queen’s Park Rangers, who are exploring the possibility of building a new ground on the site. The BBC is also considering leaving its White City site, which is located close to Television Centre.

A BBC spokesperson said: “We will publish our proposals for Delivering Quality First early this month and are not going to comment on speculation before that point.”

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