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Save BBC Radio: union’s Parliamentary Group to discuss outsourcing with BBC director

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16 March 2017

The NUJ’s Parliamentary Group will meet James Purnell, the BBC’s director of radio, to discuss concerns about ’its plans to outsource 60 per cent of radio production.

In a letter to Lord Hall, the BBC director general, Helen Goodman MP, chair of the cross-party body, said:

“While we are concerned about the long-term impact on national radio of outsourcing of up to 60 per cent of BBC in-house production, the issue we would like to discuss with you is the consequence for BBC staff.

“The Parliamentary Group has been informed that this outsourcing to independent providers will mean staff will be increasingly employed on fixed-term contracts of shorter duration, with the resulting loss of rights such as maternity leave, holiday and sick pay entitlements currently received by staff working in-house.   

“We are keen to ensure that any supplier of radio programmes to BBC Radio should be required to adhere to the pay scales, pay progression agreements and terms and conditions agreed between the BBC and the recognised trade unions, and to adhere to policies on equal opportunities, flexible working and maternity provision that are at least as good as those of the BBC.”

During the passage of the Digital Economy Bill in the Lords, Lord Ashton of Hyde said the Radio Independent Group should encourage “its members to match the BBC’s employment conditions”. However, the NUJ believes these conditions should not be left to the goodwill of rival producers and has asked to discuss the matter with the corporation. The union has been told that James Purnell’s office will agree a date to meet the Parliamentary Group.

Last year, a long list of BBC radio professionals and luminaries, including Dame Jenny Abramsky, Dame Joan Bakewell, Nikki Bedi, Jarvis Cocker, Misha Glenny, Andrew Marr and Libby Purves had a letter published in the Sunday Times calling on the government and BBC to scale back its outsourcing proposals.

The letter said the plans would create a costly bureaucratic process, taking money away from programme making, imperil BBC in-house production – and not least its role as training ground for the wider radio industry – and smaller independent production companies would lose out. It would make long-term planning difficult and result in the casualisation of the radio workforce.

At a meeting in Parliament in November 2016, chaired by Helen Goodman, Sir John Tusa, the former head of the World Service, called the outsourcing plans, “Too fast, too large, too extreme, too reckless”.

Seamus Dooley, acting NUJ general secretary, said:

“I look forward to meeting James Purnell with the NUJ’s Parliamentary Group to discuss these plans, which will inevitably lead to job losses at the BBC. They could sound the death knell for the in-house production of such favourites as the Archers and Woman’s Hour. If signature television programmes such as Holby City, A Question of Sport and Songs of Praise, have been put out to tender, how could we accept assurances that the crown jewels of the radio service will be safe?
"This plan is predicated on more casualisation and the undermining of employment rights, including maternity leave. At a time when there is supposed to be a new focus on diversity this plan would undermine the rights of women workers and erect barriers to access."

About 20 per cent of BBC national radio is produced by independent studios. In contrast with television, there is virtually no market in radio production: more than 95 per cent of the total income from broadcast output of all independent radio production companies in the UK comes from the BBC.

Work by industry expert, Enders Analysis, and others, suggests the market in radio production is static and the BBC Trust accepted this conclusion. According to the former BBC director of radio, Helen Boaden, the number of competitively tendered hours of BBC radio output “will increase threefold from 9,000 hours now to around 27,000 hours at the end of the six-year period”, that is an extra 3,000 hours of tendered output per annum.

Tags: , save bbc radio, bbc, radio, outsourcing, parliamentary group, helen goodman, john tusa, james purnell, lord hall