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May 23, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:21am

‘We’ll have to go further, I’m sure’: BBC boss Tim Davie suggests more job cuts to come

By Bron Maher

BBC director-general Tim Davie has said he is “sure” more job cuts will be needed at the broadcaster.

Speaking to peers on Monday afternoon, Davie said the BBC has to cut its output and that it will not seek to expand forever.

He and his colleagues would not be drawn on what alternative models, if any, they favoured for replacing the BBC’s licence fee funding but he said consultations to begin the process are imminent.

Davie (pictured) was appearing on Monday afternoon before the House of Lords Digital and Communications Committee, which is carrying out an inquiry into the future of the BBC’s funding, alongside BBC chairman Richard Sharp and director of policy Clare Sumner.

Davie made the reference to job cuts after one peer told the group: “I would love to see a recognition that you are focused on the hard choices you have to make, not just on ‘We’ll do everything for everybody.'”

Davie said he agreed: “On our current financing, having cut 30% in ten years, the BBC has lost 1,200 people in the last 18 months. And we’ll have to go further, I’m sure.

“In public service, we are going to have to make those choices. But I’ll do everything I can to make sure that these choices are protecting the things we all care about.”

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According to a National Audit Office report, the BBC made more than 1,800 redundancies between the 2017/18 and 2020/21 financial years. More than a fifth of these cuts were to frontline journalism roles.

The report said the prospect of redundancies had impacted staff morale among BBC journalists.

The rounds of cuts have included a major BBC News restructure which meant the loss of more than 500 jobs as the corporation sought to modernise its news output with a “story-led” approach rather than having journalists from different teams covering the same stories.

In the summer of 2020 the BBC also announced cuts to 450 roles at BBC England and 150 roles across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Davie said on Monday that the BBC as it is now does not seek to keep expanding.

“If you look at what we’ve been working on at the BBC over the last year, [universality at the BBC] does not mean ‘Do everything for everybody’. We do not need everyone’s time…

“To be fair to us, we were never asking for a massive increase in the licence fee. We recognise we have to make choices and cut back.

“What that’s meant is a pretty difficult balancing act over the last few years where we have cut back on volume a little bit…

“What we have done is a couple of things. One is we’ve cut back.

“We still make thousands of hours. This isn’t about not being a broad BBC. But we don’t need every single podcast we make, there are choices we have to make.

“And we will do that. We’re going to reduce volume a bit. We have to. We have to make choices.”

Sharp argued the BBC does not need to be equally valuable to all people at all times.

“The fact they may not be engaging [a particular age] cohort during a particular period of time does not in itself diminish the value of the BBC to them as a public service to the nation,” he said.

Despite the inquiry’s focus on how to fund the BBC, the corporation’s executives did not disclose their preference for how it should be funded. Davie said that before a conversation on funding models could be had, the country had to decide what it wants from public service broadcasting.

“I don’t think you can split the finance model from the editorial output and intent for the organisation,” he said. “Simple as that. This is why the stakes are so high. What we choose to go to will directly lead to what comes out.”

Asked by Baroness Dido Harding to confirm the idea of a two-tier BBC with a partial subscription had not been ruled out, Sharp said: “The board hasn’t ruled out anything.”

Davie did however provide an “unfinished list” of what some of the principles defining a good public broadcaster might be: whether it benefits the creative industries; whether it drives growth; whether it is editorially independent from the government; whether it provides value for money; and whether it is fair.

Davie said “we’re going to put proposals forward in the coming weeks” on such principles, which will be put to public consultation.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries in January froze the licence fee for two years so that it would not grow in line with inflation – effectively cutting the corporation’s funding.

Davie told the BBC’s Today programme that by the end of the current licence fee settlement in 2027 the freeze will have created a £285m funding gap. A press release from the BBC similarly stated: “The BBC’s income for UK services is already 30% lower in real terms than it was ten years ago.”

Davie warned later the same month he would not be able to ringfence budgets for the (largely Foreign Office-funded) World Service or Local Democracy Reporting Scheme, which runs in partnership with the News Media Association to ensure coverage of local councils and public bodies, from resulting cuts.

Davie’s appearance came as the committee nears the end of its evidence sessions on the future of BBC funding.

Last week Spectator chairman and former BBC presenter Andrew Neil gave evidence to the inquiry alongside former director-general Greg Dyke.

Neil said he thought the licence fee was no longer fit for purpose and proposed alternative forms of public funding, but said: “​​The easy way out, the most comfortable way out, is just to continue with the licence fee. And I suspect that is what will happen again. It usually is.”

Meanwhile Dyke said that while he was director-general he had been uncomfortable with the fact the licence fee placed the same burden on households with different abilities to pay, and suggested that other models may be more equitable.

Picture: Parliament TV screenshot

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