No time is right to announce job losses, but picking just before Christmas seems to be favoured by many companies. One can’t help wondering if there’s sound business sense behind it or if it can be attributed to the streak of sadism that runs through British life. When last week the BBC director-general, Mark Thompson, chose to unveil his plans to remove up to 5,000 people from its payroll, I imagine a number of Christmases were blighted. Assuming this figure I’ve quoted is correct. I’ve seen several different totals and interpretations: 2,900 actual losses from mainly administrative departments, such as marketing, training and human resources, with another 2,400 staff ‘outsourced’ when some BBC commercial areas are sold or become joint ventures.
It had to happen, of course. The BBC has been overstaffed since the 1950s, and not just with administrators. It has been incapable of reining itself in. With every new expansion, from BBC 2 and local radio to digital radio and television channels, staffing has risen to accommodate it. The licence fee has risen accordingly, but it couldn’t last and indeed more redundancies are threatened in March, this time in radio and television news. One would like to think that these cuts are being made because they are the right thing to do, but it’s also clear that the BBC wishes to appease the government, which is reviewing the corporation’s royal charter before deciding whether or not to renew it in 2007. Thompson said on Today the following morning that these measures would have been taken regardless of the charter review, but I don’t really believe it.
Moving BBC sport and Radio Five Live to Manchester seems unwise to me. Thompson believes that the BBC has neglected the north of England and, in consequence, the north feels alienated from the BBC.