Fools Rush In

Many industrial disputes can be compared to “set pieces” in sport. A well-rehearsed sequence of events is played our, usually resulting in a resolution where both sides can claim some sort of victory. But just like sport, a set piece can be spiced up with the unexpected. And so it was at the end of last week.

Unions had been balloting for strike action over changes to terms and conditions

I fully expected to be telling the Union members I represent that we would be walking out on strike this side of Christmas, over the BBC’s plans to change our basic terms of conditions of employment – and notably the attempt to scrap various shift allowances paid to compensate us for long and unpredictable working hours. But at the last minute, senior managers decided that it would be unwise to try to impose such dramatic changes in a short time frame. So the consultation has now been extended until the end of last year.

As I surmised in my last blog, it seems to be a rare admission by those at the top that they’d misjudged the mood. The only safe route to avoid the Strictly Come Dancing final being taken off the air was to allow for what a certain Government minister called “a pause” in proceedings.

It seems to be becoming a convenient way of ducking the issue. Everyone accepts that talks can’t continue forever, and even those in receipt of the shift allowances largely accept the need for change. But it is the scale and pace of the change which were obviously so wrong.

And perhaps the same logic might be applied to the “other” big consultation being carried out into the BBC’s Delivering Quality First proposals. These are huge, dramatic changes and cuts being swept through the organisation. As part of the dispute resolution, the BBC has now agreed not to start formal redundancy proceedings until more talks have taken place. And no changes can be imposed on Local Radio until the end of the BBC Trust Consultation.

The Guardian reports that the proposed cuts to Local Radio have led to more complaints than any other part of DQF. This is encouraging news for those of us working in the sector, though as I’ve warned before, it would ne unwise to crack open the champagne just yet. Meanwhile, the latest leaks have inspired Peter Preston to link the BBC’s cuts back to the Government’s own policy – as much as it is – on local media. “Crudely,” asks Peter, “how do we cover the country”.

If the reports of the scale of the backlash my listeners, politicians and staff are true – and I can safely say they are for the latter – then maybe the BBC Trust should consider a “pause” in proceedings, to allow extremely complex issues to be hammered out through proper consultation.

That would mean detailed talks with the Unions, who have already identified other ways of making savings across the Corporation. And – for what it’s worth – I think it could also mean asking the humble Licence Fee payer what he or she thinks. After all, DQF largely the disastrous result of a Licence Fee settlement hammered out in not years or months, but just a few days. An extra fiver per person could go a long way.


The BBC Trust consultation ends. Unless they pause, of course. In the meantime if you’re in the Nottingham vicinity on Wednesday 20th November you can find out more about the cuts to Local Broadcasting and how you can stop them at a special public meeting. The details are HERE.

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