BBC staff are bracing themselves for "savage" job losses in news and programme-making under cost-cutting plans to be unveiled by the corporation next week.
As many as 2,800 posts – at least 12 per cent of the BBC's 23,000 workforce –could be cut when the director general, Mark Thompson, presents his proposals to save billions of pounds to the BBC Trust. Mr Thompson is seeking budget cuts of 6 per cent in each of the next five years to make up a £2bn shortfall between the licence fee settlement and the funds he had wanted.
BBC staff are expected to be given details of the cuts next Thursday, with insiders saying they believe London-based factual programming departments will be worst hit. Some of the heaviest blows are thought to be suffered by programmes such as Planet Earth, Panorama and Top Gear. Jobs at the news division are also expected to be hit heavily. A senior BBC News source said: "Anxiety levels in the newsroom are pretty high." A senior BBC union official said he feared the proposed job losses could lead to industrial action by Christmas.
Insiders say morale at the BBC is lower now than at the time of the Hutton inquiry, with anger building over the prospect of mass job losses as well as management's handling of recent phone-in scandals involving Blue Peter and BBC Radio 6. Blue Peter was fined £50,000 by media watchdog Ofcom in the summer after the show allowed a child visiting the studio to pose as a competition winner. It was also forced to apologise for faking the results of a phone-in vote to name the show's new cat.
Staff are still reeling from last Friday's resignation of the BBC1 controller, Peter Fincham, over promotional footage of the RDF documentary A Year With The Queen, which was edited to make it appear as the Queen had stormed out of a photo shoot.
Helen Ryan, from the broadcasting workers' union, Bectu, said rumours of job losses were circulating. "We are braced for quite savage cuts," she said. "The BBC has been clear that every area has to make savings, so programme-making as well as newsrooms could be affected."
Ms Ryan added that the BBC had already committed to expensive developments, including the switch to digital broadcasting and moving staff to Salford, before knowing the outcome of the licence fee settlement.
Gerry Morrissey, general secretary of Bectu, reportedly forecast imminent industrial action as he prepared to join a delegation of union officials to meet the BBC chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, to lobby against the cuts.
Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said anxiety among staff was heightened by a lack of information by the management. "The number of rumours flying round the BBC increases everyday and yet management are not meeting with union reps to give them the facts and try to calm the atmosphere. Staff were told to 'take the pain' during the last round of cuts, with the promise of a brighter future. They will not stand for another attack on their working conditions and on the quality of their output," he said.
A BBC spokeswoman confirmed the licence fee settlement was not as large as anticipated but refused to confirm which areas of the corporation would be worst hit. "We have been told the licence fee settlement is not as large as we had bid for and therefore we have to look again at our plans for the future and reprioritise the work we plan to do," the spokeswoman said. She added that the BBC could not comment before the announcement.
Where the axe could fall
BBC1's lavish nature documentary has been on air since March 2006. Co-produced by the Discovery Channel, it is narrated by Sir David Attenborough in the UK and Sigourney Weaver in the US. It has a budget of about £13m
The Bafta-winning motoring show attracts about 8 million viewers each week. Presented by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, it is the world's most pirated television show
The Money Programme
BBC2 business affairs and finance show has been on the air since April 1966 when David Attenborough was controller of the channel. It has even been satirised by Monty Python