Last week, radio consultant John Myers rattled a few cages at the BBC by suggesting that Local Radio has too many managers. Even attempts to challenge his perhaps predictable conclusion were handled by the straightforwardness for which John is now becoming famous. On BBC Radio Nottingham’s breakfast show, the presenter asked why the BBC had paid him to come up with a conclusion which many staff had been saying for years. To paraphrase his reply : “So why didn’t you say it?”
Of course, John’s conclusions have now left the Senior Management with something of a dilemma. Do they accept his recommendations in the fashion of turkeys voting for Christmas, do they appear to be weak in rejecting them outright, or do they come up with some kind of fudge or compromise? I know which one my money’s on.
And it’s money which is also concerning the BBC right now. Or, more precisely, the system of pay and reward within the BBC News Division? The review is being led by Lucy Adams, the BBC’s Director of Business Operations. Much of debate has centered around the controversial Unpredictability Allowance, or UPA. The payment is seen by some as an outdated reward system for an industry which is, by its very definition, unpredictable. Orion Radio’s David Lloyd was especially critical of the allowance in last week’s Radio Academy Podcast.
Much of the reward system is, like a lot of the BBC, tied up in historic agreements between management and the Unions. As a union rep, I would defend many of the agreements to the hilt. UPA, for example, was invented not by the unions but the BBC – in exchange for removing any form of overtime payments. But should the system of reward be governed solely by money?
This week, the commercial radio group UKRD was named as the best medium sized company to work for by an influential poll commissioned by the Sunday Times. The survey judged the company by categories such as “wellbeing”, “personal growth” and “giving something back”. “They love their jobs like no others,” says the Sunday Times. Like many commercial radio groups, average pay – between £15,000 and £25,000 is certainly modest compared with some comparable roles within the BBC; something else commented on in the Myers Report. In UKRD, even the Managing Director doesn’t have a PA. I started out in commercial radio, and I must admit, the sense of adrenalin and fun was enough to get most people by.
It’s the kind of thing the BBC could learn a lot from.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are whole departments in the Corporation dedicated to “wellbeing”, “personal growth” and “giving something back”. just this week I received an email asking if I’d like to do some radio work in the voluntary sector. But in order to achieve these values, do we really need reams of policies, layers of managers – something which many might describe as a culture of red tape?
Maybe it’s easier for UKRD because of its size – 276 employees compared to almost 20,000 in the BBC. And whilst I’ll continue to defend the right to a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, I hope that Lucy Adams and her colleagues consider the bigger picture – the morale of staff on the shop floor.
Perhaps we should all go for a drink. On the boss. The latest BBC expenses reveal that Radio 2’s controller Bob Shennan spent £220 on a bar bill to reward staff for making cuts.
2012 is likely to see the biggest reality check in the BBC’s history. Most departments could only dream of getting the kind of “approval rating” enjoyed by UKRD. A much simpler management structure could go some way to achieving that.