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Rod Liddle

Some suggestions about how the BBC management can save money

15 October 2011

5:00 PM

15 October 2011

5:00 PM

Do you have any idea what a decision support analyst actually does for a living? This is a controversial topic because the chief operating officer of the BBC, a woman called Caroline Thomson, was unable to answer the question as to what her own decision support analysts did while they were at work. Truth be told, I’m not sure what a chief operating officer does either, although as Ms Thomson’s salary is in the region of £385,000 a year it is clearly something that should occupy my thoughts more frequently. Isn’t the director general of the BBC, Mark Thompson, by definition also the chief operating officer? Or is the chief operating officer someone who wanders around the radio installations, mending fuses and replacing valves and suchlike, a sort of odd job man or woman with an interest in electronics, and the title and salary bestowed upon them intended to make them feel better about their station in life?

In an odd sort of way I would mind less if that is really what it was. I’m sure they didn’t have a chief operating officer when I joined the BBC, or indeed legions of (one assumes) junior operating officers. Still less decision support analysts. On this latter subject, I found a job description online to help Ms Thomson out next time she’s in a tricky interview and asked a question about the people who work for her (at a salary of £58,000 per year, by the way): ‘In some companies, decision support analysts are support staff “users” of decision support systems who prepare special studies for middle-level and senior managers. These analysts may use a Data-Driven DSS to conduct an ad hoc query that is then analysed with a statistical package, Excel or a desktop OLAP tool. They may build small Model-Driven DSS and write-up the results of the analysis prepared with the DSS.’

So that’s clear, then. They may have OLAP tools. And they may use them. The question addressed to Ms Thomson is moot because the one thing the BBC will not do, despite always promising to do so whenever the subject is brought up by critics who are astonished at the amount of money the corporation spends, is cut its cohorts of chief or junior operating officers, its decision support analysts or indeed the vast legions of mediocrities in middle and senior management level who are right now perusing special studies prepared for them by the decision support analysts. Instead, the people out of the bureaucratic loop, the expendable people, the ones who earn far, far less than £58,000 per year, will be the people who will lose their jobs in these proposed cuts: the superfluous people who make programmes you might want to watch or listen to.

It is an inviolable law of bureaucracies that bureaucrats don’t get sacked: everyone else does instead. And this includes the journalists and presenters working on your local radio and tv stations, one of the few services provided by the corporation which justifies its mandatory demand upon your wallet. In fact it would not surprise me if the BBC created a new tier of management to oversee these forthcoming 20 per cent budget cuts, or hired accountancy firms at vast expense to report to the decision support analysts and the chief operating officer as to precisely which journalists’ jobs should be sacrificed. That, broadly, is what has happened in the past.

Still, some of what has been proposed by Mark Thompson (no relation, I don’t think — although I like the idea of all BBC bureaucrats forced by law to share the same surname) makes sense and will improve, rather than diminish, the broadcaster’s output. Quite how dross such as Cash in the Celebrity Attic, Strictly Come Dancing It Takes Two with the Monkey-Faced Zoe Ball and Flog It! meet the original requirement for BBC2 to be defined by a superior intellect is an enduring mystery. Much of this vapid air-headed toss will mercifully disappear, to be replaced by cheaper and more intelligent stuff from the BBC World Service. And Thompson has been forced to concede that certain parts of the BBC must be protected from the cuts, i.e. the bits enjoyed by those most despised of humankind, middle-class white folk. So Radio 4, for example, will not be subjected to assault. And the cuts to BBC Sport have been a long time coming: please let them bite the bullet and drop Formula 1.

I have one or two suggestions, though, on how the BBC might save even more money and improve its output, and which I offer now in a spirit of affection and friendship.

1. Sack everyone whose job cannot be defined with some ease by Caroline Thomson. Definitions such as ‘he helps make The Antiques Roadshow’ or ‘he is a researcher on You and Yours’ will suffice.

2. And after she’s tried to define all those jobs, sack Caroline Thomson along with 500 other senior or middle managers. I have nothing against the woman: I just don’t understand what she does. For the same reason I would sack whoever is head of BBC Vision these days, because I don’t understand that job title either. As for the rest, just stick a pin in a list if need be. Nobody will miss them.

3. Stop making expensive trails for television programmes. Cut the amount of advertising the BBC does about itself by 90 per cent and on no account commission specially prepared trails.

4. Sack whoever it is who writes the patronising and presumptuous scripts for the continuity announcers. Just tell us what programmes are coming up, quickly and with deference. Sack any continuity announcer who speaks before a programme has properly finished, i.e. the credits have rolled.

5. Close down BBC3 and the Asian ­Network.

I hope this has been of help.  

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