Admit It – You Got It Wrong

You can hear it in your head. The harmonica and accordion sadly serenading the sense of failure. The haunting reverberated voice, hitting a falsetto note in the final verse :

“What do I got to do? What do I got to do? When sorry seems to be the hardest word.”
It’s a classic. At least it is if you count Elton John’s original version of the song, as opposed to Lee Ryan’s “has-he-just-fallen-on-the-crossbar” moment.
And as this week comes to a close, it seems an entirely apt to dedicate that song to certain sections of The Management (as I’ve decided to call them) following one climb down and distant view of the reverse lights on the road ahead.
I’ll start with that first. As you may know, BBC Local Radio hangs in limbo right now, whilst the BBC Trust decides whether the Corporation’s cuts are to be implemented in full. Consultations always throw up plenty of debate, although not always among those who might be affected the most by any changes.
So it’s nice to see The Telegraph apparently bigging up the benefits of local radio. Starting with the heartening story of Radio Merseyside listeners collaring the Director General, we learned that Mark Thompson is may be at last getting the message that a huge number of people rely on local radio. Just to remind you, that’s around 7.5 million every week. But it’s the smidgen of rumour towards the bottom of the article that’s the most interesting:
One senior BBC source says privately: “Local radio is the one area of the cuts where senior management seem to think they’ve cocked up.” Rumours are circulating that Helen Boaden, the head of BBC news, has found a way of diverting £1 million or more back into local radio.
Of course, an un-named source should never be an immediate cause for celebration. And before we crack open the champagne, let’s err on the side of caution. BBC Local Radio has to save around £5.3 million from its content budget. And whilst getting a million back might seem like good news, it’s already know that stations have been promised extra reporting resources – but only if they achieve the required savings first. The words Peter, Paul and robbing spring to mind.
Yet there is a growing sense that those in charge are getting the message that they’ve seriously misjudged both the public and political mood. So will they say sorry, or should I instead put my life savings on me landing a leading role on Broadway before I’m 50? (Before the agents call, it’s not much of a choice since I don’t have any life savings).
And so to my second “Elton Moment” of the week. Yesterday a number of my colleagues attended a special “Transformation Workshop”, which had primarily been designed to tell journalists why their pay is likely to be effectively cut through reforms of the BBC’s pay structure. The National Union of Journalists and Bectu are currently balloting for strike action of the issue. So perhaps few were surprised when earlier this week, the BBC’s HR Head Lucy Adams suddenly announced that plans to effectively scrap shift allowances were now being put off until April 2013, rather than the arbitrary 2012 previously decided my senior managers.
It didn’t stop the workshop becoming a vocal forum for ordinary staff to express their sheer anger at the £3m of car allowances paid to senior managers – something which is to be scrapped for new managers but not existing ones. But there was equal anger over the admission that pay and conditions had been badly managed for so long. Again, the sounds of the harmonica and accordion were almost audible in the room – but the conclusion was one of admission rather than apology for past failings.
I was asked afterwards what senior managers could do to ease industrial relations, not just with the unions but with everyday shop floor workers. Elton’s song could be a good starting point.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. It’s an interesting turn of phrase you have chosen to use, ‘yet there is a growing sense that those in charge are getting the message that they’ve seriously misjudged both the public and political mood.’ It seems over dramatise the events that are unfolding and yet for a journalist you seem to be missing some of the key points? It’s a question I hope you’ll answer.

    The idea that management have ‘misjudged both the public and political mood’ gives the impression that BBC is an organisation that exists somehow buoyed by pubic and political mood. Perhaps if we were in times of heightened economic prosperity and peaceful harmony, the public and political mood would be so ‘good’ that these cuts would be rubber stamped whilst we all sit around in some utopian orgasmic daze reminiscent of Woody Allen in Sleeper?

    It isn’t a mood that has been misjudged. The management have misjudged the BBCs own public purpose remit, they have forgotten that the BBC belongs to the licence payers. Is not part of its remit to provide services which commercial broadcasters do not? What’s happened to local journalism in general the last few years? Is it profligate and booming? No, it has been DQF’d

    You should know how long Mark Thompson has been championing these proposals, at least back to February 2010, then in the Strategic Review, through the rumoured 5Live tie-up and to DQF. If he can’t guage a ‘mood’ over almost 2 years then I do pity his poor wife.

    The NUJ I believe, correct me if I’m wrong, have organised a vote of no confidence in Mark Thompson. Is that for misjudging a mood?

    I apologise if you think my tone is harsh but there are precious few BBC voices to be heard in amongst the public and the politicos getting all moody. One of the most precious things the BBC and in particular its local news and local stations hold, is the trust of it’s listeners, they believe in you. They believe you will tell them the truth. It seems there may be a mood and it’s inside the BBC, it’s one of fear and its putting a gag those who give us the truth each day. And that doesn’t seem quiet right to me.

  2. Tamsin says:

    Excellent blog NewsMutt and there should be some apologies!

    There are times that we all have to stand up to a management that does not lead by example, and is doing damage.

    I think that time is now!

    Journalism must be fought for, especially in its local context.


  3. NewsMutt says:

    I think an organisation like the BBC is always going to be, to a certain extend, bouyed by the political mood. Having to deal with the Government of the day for your core funding, whilst also remaining impartial in your news coverage of such matters, is going to be a tricky balancing act. So that’s why I think there is a feeling that the senior management team have misjudged the situation.

    You’re right to observe that Mark Thompson was hinting at a lot of DQF stuff many months before we’d heard of the term. Many insiders could see what was coming. But predicting the exact content of a document of cuts is never a wise move. Invariably, you tend to hope for the best for your own corner and stuff the rest.

    As for the BBC gagging opinion, you only have to read recent comments from the likes of Radio Cornwall’s Managing Editor to see that people are sticking their heads above the parapet. They may be a minority, but they’re a vocal one.

    And when the Telegraph starts supporting the cause, well – that’s certainly a new one!

    The NUJ’s vote of confidence grabbed some headlines. I think the unions are concentrating primarily on the strike ballot,mand if I were a betting man I’d put money on the cnfidence vote coinciding with the first day of strike action. Assuming, of course, a strong yes vote.

  4. Tamsin says:

    Thank you for being honest.

    Of course, the BBC is publicly accountable and that is because it is funded by the public and must answer to it in the most transparent of ways. The senior mangement team have acted without responsibility, Mark Thompson made it clear in 2010, before any fee settlement that BBC local radio was going to be networked.

    What was the nature of BBC staff involvement with the DQF process? That was supposed to be a staff consultation? was it?

    What do you mean by hoping for the best for your own corner and stuffing the rest? Are you talking about BBCLR against other services?

    Pauline Causey, spoke out several weeks has been very quiet since. Does that mean that no one else agrees with her? because that is how it is looking from the outside.

    Hope you can answer these questions for the listeners to BBC local radio, who are concerned.

  5. NewsMutt says:

    The DQF process was, as you might expect, pretty arbitrary. Before DQF we had PQF, Putting Quality First – where the BBC said we had to make x% of savings becuase of the Licence Fee deal and asked staff where they thought savings might be made.

    This is what I meant by “stuff the rest”. It was efectively asking “who should be fired?”. Yes, perhaps a good paper exrcise in examining where we think there might be waste, but actually it felt to many like pitting ourselves against colleagues. All of this is pretty well documented, but the DG was under pressure to deliver the results in the summer. Quite rightly, due to the amount of response, it was put back until the Autumn.

    The prognosis for Local Radio was already looking bleak, though of course the notion of a 5 Live merger had been thrown out – actually, by senior managers!

    Has there been “silence” since Pauline Causey’s remark? Well, it’s worth remembering that she didn’t make a public statement – she asked a question in a DQF staff session which was seized upon by The Guardian and others. Privately there’s lots of lobbying and gentle persuasion happening behind the scenes. You can perhaps accept that managers might be on a three line whip to follow the corporate line.

    But the various public campaigns seem to be making steady progress. We shall see whether it’s been enough to persuade the BBC Trust in the new year.

  6. Tamsin says:

    I understand what you are saying. But there is considerable concern here.

    DQF was presented as a staff consultation exercise. The Yammer was up and running.

    WTF = What The Flip went wrong?

    Why did BBC local radio end up a victim?

    Why has it been left to the listeners to save it? luckily we have and continue to do so..but that might not have been the case…and behind the scenes lobbying is all very well..but actually the protest groups would like some assurance that they can trust those behind the scenes lobbyists to actually be strong enough to protect BBC local radio.

  7. NewsMutt says:

    I’m not sure that is has been left to the listeners. Staff from the controller downwards are getting the ear of anyone they can at the moment. Personally I’m organising a public meeting with the NUJ in my neck of the woods, and the sole aim is to urge people to take part in the Trust consultation. They are the ones – right now – who can say yay or nay to the proposals.

    Beyond that there’s the forthcoming strike ballot results of both NUJ and Bectu. And only this week we’ve had the DG and Chief Operating Officer publicly declaring that the cuts may not be implemented in full.

    I’ve heard and read many encouraging reports from politicians challenging the cuts in Bristol, Sheffield and Cumbria to name but three. The Country Land and Business Association has sounded its concerns. These may not be “public facing campaigns” like the BBC Local Radio Forum or Save BBC Radio, but they are a wide collection of voices all saying the same thing.

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