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Around 40 jobs at BBC NI at risk after broadcaster is forced to save £3.6m

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There will be up to 40 job losses at BBC Broadcasting House in Belfast

There will be up to 40 job losses at BBC Broadcasting House in Belfast

Director of BBC NI Peter Johnston

Director of BBC NI Peter Johnston

There will be up to 40 job losses at BBC Broadcasting House in Belfast

Up to 40 jobs are at risk at BBC Northern Ireland after it was announced the broadcaster would have to find savings of £3.6m from its annual budget of £56m by the end of March 2021.

The threat to positions in Northern Ireland comes after BBC Director General Tony Hall announced last week that the corporation needed to make savings of £125m across the UK.

Director of BBC NI Peter Johnston confirmed in an email to staff on Tuesday that the cutbacks would see a reduction in 30-40 posts, including voluntary redundancies, from its current staff of 650.

BBC NI also recently postponed plans for a £77m redevelopment of Broadcasting House in Belfast and in the past few months several familiar faces and voices have left, including veteran broadcasters Noel Thompson, Wendy Austin and Seamus McKee.

"Like so many other organisations, the BBC has been greatly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and we must now join the other BBC divisions in delivering these latest savings," said Mr Johnston, though BBC NI refused to say whether more big names would be leaving.

"We have a dedicated workforce who have demonstrated their commitment to audiences before and throughout this pandemic and we will support them through this unsettling time."

Before the Covid-19 crisis, the BBC said 450 jobs would go in news as part of planned cuts of £800m. Those job losses were put on hold as the corporation moved to cope with covering the pandemic. The corporation has also deferred the ending of free TV licences to the over-75s, at a cost of £40m a month.

The BBC now says the Covid-19 crisis alone has cost it £125m and the National Union of Journalists has now called on the Government to step in, with 150 jobs under threat across Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, with further cutbacks still to be announced in England. NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said "the BBC is at a pivotal point in its history".

"Already faced with achieving cuts of £800m, the additional Covid-19 funding gap of £125million will lead to swingeing cuts to jobs, programming and services," she said.

"At a time when our public service broadcaster has brilliantly risen to the challenge of a global pandemic, providing vital information and news to communities faced with an unprecedented health crisis, it is now having to pay the cost for that public service by losing experienced talented staff, and curtailing important news and content.

"The Government should step forward to fill this Covid-19 funding gap, rather than inflict further cuts on an already financially challenged BBC.

"There must then also be a broader debate around the funding of the BBC so that our public service broadcaster can be taken off the critical list with its future health and independence secured."

As 80% of the BBC budget is spent on staff costs, the required savings will involve substantial job cuts. Mr Johnston said BBC NI had made savings of around £4m since 2017 and added that prior to the pandemic, the BBC already had 24% less available to spend on UK public services than if the licence fee had risen with inflation since 2010.

He said that while the BBC had the privilege of the licence fee, its income had been impacted by difficulties in licence fee collection during lockdown, and the delay to the implementation of the over 75s policy.

Belfast Telegraph