Bell Rings BBC Changes

It’s been a significant week for the BBC so far, and it’s still only Wednesday. But whilst most of the attention has been on the new Director General George Entwistle starting his new role, there’s been an equally significant shift at a local level.

Local Radio was the focus of the Corporation’s programme of cuts, Delivering Quality First. Yet when four senior managers left their roles earlier in the year, some of them leaving the BBC with healthy redundancy packages, there was more than a little consternation when these “redundant” jobs were subsequently readvertised.

One highly experienced industry insider said to me at the time : “Either it’s redundant or it isn’t! How can they do this?”. I’ll save their blushes and not name them, but similar views were expressed by colleagues who saw much more junior members of staff leaving Local Radio – to make up the numbers for the savings – but without those front line roles being replaced.

Ringing the changes : Marianne Bell becomes the first Managing Editor to run two BBC Local Stations

But perhaps the message is slowly getting through, with the announcement that Radios Berkshire and Oxford are to share one Managing Editor. Technically, it won’t be the first time this has happened, since the two stations were once one – BBC Thames Valley. The change has come about because the substantive ME at Oxford has decided to leave the organisation.

Many outsiders may take a “so what” approach to this news. After all, why shouldn’t neighbouring stations, with similar editorial patches, share management resources? In fact, such a move was suggested by the external consultant John Myers, in his report on the impact of DQF earlier this year.

At the time, the BBC’s Controller of English Regions defended the role of senior managers in this podcast for the Radio Academy. They played a critical role, he said, in maintaining links between local stations and the local community. And I always thought that was the journalist’s job…

The BBC insists that the arrangements at Oxford and Berkshire were “discussed” before The Myers Report. David Holdsworth told the BBC’s Ariel Online :

“While we believe it is possible to significantly reduce management in local radio we do not believe that, in most cases, reducing the number of editors is in the best interests of quality. Oxford and Berkshire are an exception, due to the size and nature of stations and the areas they serve.”

But perhaps this is more than “so what”. Learned observers will recognise this as a small, yet significant, change of culture within a BBC that many still see as too top heavy with managers.

In a similar move, one layer up the management chain, David Holdsworth also announced that London and the South East are to share one Head of Region. Is this also due top the “size and nature” of those regions, or simply an acknowledgement that the BBC London region, with just one Local Radio and TV service, simply doesn’t warrant so many layers of management?

DQF has been a huge challenge to the BBC. It’s only now that we’re beginning to see its effects working their way through the Corporation. All the way to the top.

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