Hello from Wood Norton! Unfortunately I [Kevin Doig] am unable to attend the conference and take up Mark’s invitation to present a summary of how Wood Norton is. However I’d still like to take part – even if only virtually. So here’s a brief look at what’s happening, what’s on the horizon but first a trip back in time.
I did not attend conference last year so was unable to do a number of things I should – so I hope you’ll forgive me briefly going over the past.
The big headline for many was the outsourcing process of parts of training in line with the BBC People target figures for headcount and cost reduction.
The reasoned arguments have been aired often enough, and there were plenty of meetings between the BBC and BECTU with regard to these.I would like to take this opportunity to thank a number of people for there support and guidance, both at those meetings and elsewhere. Personally, and on behalf of the branch, I would like to thank Dan, Jim and Luke for their much valued experience, professionalism, guidance and wit.
I have learned a lot working with all of them.For me the outsourcing campaign has a number of notable moments, which I hope you won’t mind me sharing:
View from across the table
I think it was the very first meeting between the BBC and BECTU where the BBC proposed outsourcing parts of training.
The BBC made its presentation and then we had an opportunity to respond. Luke opened and then I said my piece – I got back to find an email from Nigel Paine, then Head of People Development, who sat on the BBC’s side of the table: “I thought you did a great job at the meeting today. You spoke really well and very passionately. Well done.” I replied with “Thank you for your compliments – especially coming from “the other side of the table.”
Nigel responded to this saying “I thought that you put a strong case forward and argued it well. Deserves praise”. Not what I would have expected from the “opposition”.
Writing to MPs
Another experience that, for me, was strange, was going home from doing my days work for the BBC and in the evenings writing FoI requests to the BBC and letters to my MP and other MPs etc campaigning against my employer. I also involved relatives who were in Tessa Jowel’s constituency asking them to write to her as their MP – sadly we got the “BBC is independent from the DCMS” reply.
Front page of Ariel/Capita meeting
People may recall the campaign making the front page of Ariel. What you may not know is that the day that that Ariel was published there was a meeting between the BBC, Capita and BECTU. I recall walking past the room where there was the BBC/Capita pre-meet to see all of the Capita people, each with a copy of Ariel. I would loved to have been a fly on the wall as Capita saw so publicly what staff thought. Stunning serendipity.
Guardian on line story
The day the petition was presented to the DG the online Guardian ran a story in its media section – here’s part of it: Broadcasting union Bectu today presented BBC director general Mark Thompson with a petition protesting against the corporation’s plan to outsource training to the controversial support services firm Capita.
“The petition has been signed by people across the broadcast industry, both BBC and non-BBC, and the response has been stunning,” said Kevin Doig, the union representative at BBC training and development in Evesham, which will be most affected by the proposals.
“Everyone wholeheartedly supports the belief that outsourcing would be damaging for both the BBC and wider industry.
“We are concerned that transferring us to a company with no broadcast background will destroy the training we give to people in industry and universities. This kind of training is cherished within the BBC and also outside. It is a public service and splitting it up would cut us off from the BBC and be very damaging.”
What made it for me was how the BBC made BECTU look good. The press office provided a wonderful contrast to what we were saying. At the end of the Guardian article was:A BBC spokesman said of today’s petition: “Unions have been consulted at every step of this process and we have worked very closely with them to minimise compulsory redundancies.”
Email from delegate
But I think the best thing I read was an email from someone in the BBC in response to the announcement that we were not being outsourced:“I’m leaving the BBC today – early retirement and voluntary redundancy but this has made my day.”
Reading through the emails and Ariel articles from the campaign saddens me when I then look at what subsequently happened.
Caroline Prendergast took the helm of Training Delivery during the outsourcing process and we experienced what Ariel quotes me describing as “mechanistic” and “number obsessed” management.Caroline had her targets to meet and “if I don’t do it, I’ll loose my job and someone else will do it.” And so we faced a 50% staff reduction.
The anti-outsourcing campaign had highlighted that you couldn’t get the technical training we deliver else where. As a result the plan is that the engineering training should see the smallest cuts, craft training suffering greater cuts whilst technical support would be hardest hit. Part of the rational for this that craft trainers and technical support services could be bought in from the free lance market more easily than broadcast engineering training.
We pointed out the symbiotic relationship that existed between all the departments and staff at Wood Norton. We highlighted to no effect the weakening effect that losing the in-house knowledge and experience had.
It was worrying to note some of the plans that Caroline suggested and the mindset it pointed towards. For example, as a way to reduce the number of trainers needed at Wood Norton then delegates on a week long residential course could spend 3 days receiving face to face training and the other two days could be spent at Wood Norton learning on-line.
Fortunately she listened to the rational that the reason managers sent people to Wood Norton was to benefit from the face to face training and they wouldn’t buy sending their staff away to residential training – but other management proposals were not so easily defeated.
From the branch’s point of view there was little to do – we were in the position that there were some members that it was the right time for them to be made redundant.
Jim and Dan visited and the members affected decided that some form of action was not appropriate since only a long protracted dispute would have any detrimental effect on the BBC.I found that a BBC wide campaign similar to the anti-outsourcing one, would be very difficult to stage – across the BBC cuts were happening and an argument from Wood Norton of “not us” wouldn’t be strongly received.
Equally, Jim once advised me that management have a right to manage [I’ve since suggested he was wrong – management have a right to manage competently!] and management were actively working to seek solutions to the problems introduced by the cuts, so a “unique selling point” that we could engage staff across the BBC with was proving elusive.
Wood Norton has gone a good way down the year one cuts and we have seen the loss of a number of very experienced trainers and support staff, a number of which have been BECTU members. With staff transferring to Siemens, the BBC Wood Norton branch is getting worryingly small!
Wood Norton at the moment
If the cuts at Wood Norton were questioned, the BBC would point out that there are a number of changes bring made, but training is still being delivered, and that there is investment on equipment and infrastructure here.
Studio A refurbishment
As I write this Wood Norton’s Studio A has a band in it as part of a recording to test the newly installed vision mixer [redeployed from TVC], new desk and monitoring, refurbishment of the central technical area and some infrastructure upgrading. Over £120,000 has been spent improving the facilities offered by this studio – redeployment of equipment has allowed the creation of a facility that would have cost a lot more from new.
A similar amount has been spent on equipping two of the radio studios with brand new DHD desks. A Studer desk is currently being sourced.
However money is proving more elusive for HD – possibly as a result of the DG reportedly saying WN will never have an HD studio.
PQ and Raman
Both craft and engineering trainers are involved in helping deliver training projects for Pacific Quay and the transition to Raman intersite connectivity.Examples of the flexibility and adaptability of the trainers at Wood Norton.
The investment has to be seen as a positive sign for Wood Norton, despite the significant staff losses. We hope that we have not dropped below critical mass. However we are not quite finished VfM year 1.
The plan does suggest further job cuts in year 3. We can only hope that sense prevails between now and then and further depletion of knowledge and training experience is terminated. However, given a cash strapped BBC, it may be difficult to try and prevent further losses.
Slimmed down portfolio
At the same time as staff reductions there has been a parallel reduction in the variety of courses offered. This is a bit of a chicken and egg situation – fewer trainers meant that we could deliver less training – equally fewer courses needed fewer trainers.
Not enough staff, not enough budget for freelancers – courses cancelled
More concerning is the report that we are having to cancel scheduled courses because we do not have enough trainers to deliver the courses compounded by the departments budget being set to low allow the use of as many freelancer days as we need.
Relevance to the BBC?
It is difficult to be upbeat about the long term future of Wood Norton given what I have described above.
A concern is that through being able to deliver less, the loss of the perception of Wood Norton being a significant pool of knowledge and information and the use of more free lance effort then we will drift into obscurity.
Equally with further sell offs and transfers of staff many wonder if in the future the BBC will still feel it needs the training delivered by the Wood Norton sections of Training and Development.
Wood Norton’s rollercoaster ride continues….
Posted by Dan Cooke