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Dark day at the BBC as staff learn their fate

By Ian Burrell

The BBC will announce the axing of 2,600 jobs this morning – one in nine of the total staff – risking a wave of industrial action over what is the biggest round of job cuts in the organisation's history.

Most of the cuts will come in BBC newsrooms, from which hundreds of journalists will be laid off, and in departments making documentaries.

Mark Thompson, the BBC director general, who has been criticised for not negotiating a more favourable licence fee settlement from the Government, will also take the knife to the corporation's output of drama, children's programmes and its services in Scotland and Wales. Radio Five Live and the rolling news channel News 24 will also be hard hit.

Unions are already drawing up battle lines, describing the programme of job losses as "unprecedented" and describing morale at the BBC as being at "an all time-low".

The BBC Trust, which oversees the corporation, gave its approval yesterday to Mr Thompson's six-year strategy, entitled Delivering Creative Future, which is intended to create a more streamlined organisation for the digital age beyond the switch-off of the analogue signal in 2012 and place a greater emphasis on internet-based services.

Sir Michael Lyons, the trust's chairman, said: "We are confident that the plans we have approved today will safeguard the core values of the BBC at a time of radical and accelerating change in technology, markets and audience expectations."

Senior BBC sources tried to play down the scale of the blood-letting yesterday, saying that the net loss would be 1,780 posts, after programmes of reskilling and the creation of new jobs.

But BBC staff are likely to react with anger to the announcements. Gerry Morrissey, assistant general secretary of the broadcasting union Bectu, said he expected the BBC management to be put on notice of impending strike action, after a meeting of the main unions today, which is likely to trigger a strike ballot. Staff could be on the picket lines by the end of next month.

The cuts to the corporation's main newsrooms will be deepest of all, amounting to more than 360 lost posts, some 12 per cent of the total staff of BBC News. BBC Nations and Regions will have to cut 500 jobs from the teams that produce local news, more than 8 per cent of the total.

After protests from high-profile presenters such as Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys, the BBC's flagship news programmes, such as Radio 4's Today, The World At One and BBC2's Newsnight, have been largely safeguarded. One source said: "We've sought to protect the big beasts like Today, Newsnight and newsgathering. They're not exempt but they have been largely protected and it's the daily newsroom, the 24-hour machine, where we have looked to drive out the duplication."

In looking for cuts, BBC management is looking to reduce duplication, with specialist correspondents being expected to work for all BBC platforms – website, television and radio – much more than is currently the case. News 24 , which has already incorporated the major bulletins into its schedule to reduce its own output, will be obliged to cut some of its weekend talk-shows and original programmes such as Dateline London.

Factual programming, which includes documentaries and educational programming, will lose several hundred jobs because of "an over-capacity" of production staff in London.

Mr Morrissey said he was concerned at reports from employees that letters with offers of redundancy had already been prepared for named members of staff before talks had taken place between management and unions. "Morale at the BBC is even lower than when John Birt was director general," he said.

Irish Independent


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