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Archive for April, 2007

Conference report from BBC Wood Norton (Training)


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.

Last year

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.

This year

VfM reductions

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.

Radio studios

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 future

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.

Year 3

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

Filed under: BBC People/HR/Personnel, Conference

Solo operation of new links vehicles agreed

For some months BECTU has been concerned about the potential use by managers of the new lightweight links units (uPods in some places, COFDMs in most urban areas) being operated by a solo operator in a live transmission situation.

It became clear that management saw this as a vital part of their newsgathering armoury, and so at the last BBC Divisional Committee negotiators were given the mandate to say an absolute “NO” if necessary to any live solo operation.

At a subsequent English Regions Divisional meeting both sides started out, naturally, at some distance. Faced with the strength of BECTU’s position (and hopefully, our arguments about the inherent dangers of solo live operation), we finally struck a deal which will cover the whole of English Regions, but will also be our template for negotiations about the use of similar vehicles in other divisions, and in the Nations – although it should be said that the same economic imperatives don’t seem to apply in News as they do outside London, and so no urgency has yet arisen.

The deal essentially agrees two situations only in which any such vehicle can be operated by a single person in a live transmission:

  • Inside a secure building, for a live down-the-line interview, with the vehicle locked but left unattended – the BBC has agreed that the responsibility for the safety of the vehicle during such situations does NOT lie with the operator;
  • And for a live GV shot – this shot would be set up with direction from the gallery, but once set up, the operator would stand back from the camera to ensure his/her own security and the shot would NOT be directed or changed during the actual live transmission.

Your negotiators believe that this is a substantial achievement, and has protected operators from some potentially dangerous and inappropriate situations.

We also made it clear that we would be monitoring assiduously, and should there be infringement of this agreement by any individual newsroom (for instance, producers seeking to do other live transmissions, or asking for the shot to be changed) we would not hesitate to withdraw from the agreement and return to our NO LIVES stance.

Posted by Mark Scrimshaw

Filed under: BBC News

PSB in the digital age

Luke Crawley and myself attended the Public Service Broadcasting in the Digital Economy Conference held in Lisbon March 28-29 2007.

This was an important, at times fascinating and at times infuriating, conference.

It was organised by EURO-MEI, the European organisation of broadcasting unions of which BECTU is a forceful and active member, and with the financial support of the European Commission which is currently heavily involved in looking at the rules for broadcasting in the new digital age.

Bringing together representatives of the unions from public service broadcasters across the European Union is a huge job in itself;

  • it brings together the “old” style broadcasters-unions from the Scandinavian and north European countries, where there is still largely a license fee, a strong public belief in PSB and social responsibility, and firm commitment to union representation;
  • alongside are the “new” countries from the south of Europe – Spain, Portugal, Greece – where there is often strong, if fragmented, unionisation but usually also far more government control of national channels and some bizarre funding formulae often including subscription and advertising;
  • and then there are the new joiners from the old east Europe – the Czechs, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Serbia and Slovakia were all represented ; those countries have tended to leave themselves in an enormous mess; the end of state communism generally resulted in a mass destruction of the old unions and the formation of a myriad of new ones (Latvia has 38 unions in its broadcasting industry!).

    It’s also resulted in general loathing at governmental level of any form of social responsibility in broadcasting (or anything else come to that) and a desire to leave it to the market, which has left PSB stations under-funded and vulnerable to takeover.

Given all that, discussions were far-ranging and often haphazard, and many times we were overwhelmed with feelings that so many countries still look to our system as a perfect template – while we were keen to stress to them the dangers currently facing that system from the free marketeers and political enemies.

Initial sessions had speeches from many high-ranking Portuguese broadcasters, unionists and ministers, and identified several areas for concern in the digital world:

  • technological worries, especially for older viewers
  • “get what you want” – the more there is on demand, the fewer programmes will be made which build a surprise audience, and so the more focus-group driven commissions there will be, and only progs with a guaranteed audience will be made – it seemed axiomatic to us that one of the purposes of PSB is to make the high-risk programmes, sponsor the edgy performers – and in terms of union fights to protect jobs and skills quality employment is a prerequisite of quality in the media;
  • Is UGC more than a fad? The internet has a history of phenomenal growth followed by enormous crash; while there is undoubtedly a future for UGC in instant news access and on sites like utube, clearly there are major issues, especially of copyright (already beginning in the US courts) and quality – we must continue to believe that we can provide the quality programmes which no-one else can;
  • The tendency for PSB to auto-destruct – for instance, the BBC is so determined to embrace the new age that in Europe it is often seen as ranging itself alongside the big commercial players – the dangers of that double game are being seen in the License Fee negotiations but also in the bbcjam issue, where the BBC is losing much support it might naturally expect from social democrats because of its nakedly commercial view on other maters digital;
  • Question: “When will we have time to read with all these new services?” Answer: “They’ll be so full of crap we’ll be delighted to get back to a good book!”

Presentation by Natalie Piakowski, the European Broadcasting Union’s Legal Advisor, was really interesting and quite worrying:

  • She said the interests of the market are clearly being put ahead of those of the public – this is done by talking only of the “consumer”, about choice being paramount, and diminishing purchase cialis online the role of social elements in broadcasting – eg public political debate, minority interest progs, blue sky commissioning;
  • European legislation demands quality standards from PSB channels, but quality costs!
  • Digital is becoming obsessed with information and access above all other considerations, and as ends in themselves rather than concerns about content or moderated debate
  • The Dutch have already switched off analogue – we should have a close look at how this was achieved to see what lessons we can learn
  • The old battleground has not merely shifted but vanished – mainstream TV is no longer of huge interest to the commercial publishers and broadcasters, it’s now about websites, on-demand and interactive services. Maybe the future of ITV lies with its gameshow lines once digital recording devices can get rid of all adverts for us!

Anna Herold, from the European Commission Directorate General on Information Society and Media – a specialist in Audiovisual and Media Policies.

  • There is a draft Audiovisual Media Services directive coming, and a review of the Electronic Communications Framework
  • EC backs switchover because it offers enhanced viewer experience; is demanded by the internet market; and enables “more efficient” use of spectrums – all free market criteria
  • There is a danger of regulating down to the levels of the new states
  • Why does “the market” never seem to be applied to products like junk food?
  • She said that “the market will not deliver what should be delivered to citizens by public sector broadcasters” – leaving the questions, who will be regulated to do that then, and how will it be paid for – and raises the concern that PSB channels in Europe will become like the American one, always begging for money and making few progs of its own, and less the dominant content supplier it has always been in Europe.
  • The European Commission is now looking at new rules and revisions on the role of PSB in new technology – it’s unhappy with the number of complaints from commercial companies about PSB involvement especially in online services and want to tighten rules to stop this – we’re already seeing the impact of this in bbcjam issue; they seem to be looking at the UK approach of a Public Value Test followed by a Market Impact Assessment as a template – could be worse, but we know how time- and effort-consuming such a template can be;
  • There was a strong feeling amongst delegates that while many countries’ PSBs did not yet have a strong online presence, they should have the right to do so especially in educational and informational sites where commercial publishers wouldn’t go without profits.
  • Across Europe the giant commercial corporations are using this opportunity to re-open the argument of “what use is PSB?” at the very time when all public polls show strong support for the values of PSB.

Some other thoughts collected from the conference which give us all cause for concern, or food for thought -

  • Do we need to re-define what we mean by PSB? Can it any longer be about rivalry with commercial stations, especially as they withdraw at a rate of knots from high-quality programming – but should it rather be based on Independence, Reliability and Honesty?
  • Archive Issues – impact of independent production, as indies own future rights so progs don’t give into the archive or are freely available for repeats despite being paid for out of the License Fee
  • Outsourcing is “a race to the bottom.”!!!!
  • The French unions were absolutely horrified by the notion of VJs – interesting given the debates in the Presidency election about France’s way of doing things!
  • The BBC is a huge player in the European market – only five companies are bigger, Bertelsmann, Vivendi Universal, Reed Elsevier, ARD and Pearson – and accordingly are seen as a PSB using its vast commercial muscle often against other commercial players – it’s a line the BBC crosses at its peril!

Building a Europe-wide campaign to defend Public Service Broadcasting:

We need to agree on what PSB actually IS; the range of differences across Europe amongst unions are huge – for instance, KMSfB Austria found the use of freelances in PSB channels anathema, while the Danes from FAF only represented freelances! They could divide us fatally unless we coalesce around key values –

So what should those values be?

  • Independence from state and commercial influence
  • Autonomous funding
  • Editorially trustworthy and honest
  • Technologically innovative and accessible
  • Diverse – for minorities (including the linguistic)
  • Must maintain significant (50%) in-house production across all genres
  • Significant regional/local presences
  • Quality of production and journalistic standards
  • Training to be undertaken for industry standards
  • Develop a “popular language” so that PSB not only has regional and local voices, but also a wider pan-European and internationalist voice

We should not apologise for public funding – we should be selling it a sa positive aspect of quality, independent, honest, accessible PSB;

We should make our case on our remit to Inform, Educate and Entertain, and to do that we need funding free from commercial constraints;

We need to fight at national and European political levels, but also actively engage in this battle with our audiences as we’re confident they’ll support us.

Don’t campaign against commercial companies, campaign FOR BSB – but be aware that commercial companies are using the review to try and restrict PSB access to new media.

UNI-Mei (the international federation of unions to which BECTU belongs) has stirring and worthwhile policy declarations which can be significant rallying points fro unionists:

“United we will be stronger to continue our historic struggle to:

  • Maintain the identity of the world’s cultures
  • Protect and improve intellectual property rights
  • Safeguard and strengthen public service broadcasting and defend the rights of workers in commercial networks
  • Give to the large number of casual workers their rightful status through collective agreements and statutory provision”

“The restructuring of the market and new technology in no way affects the importance and the relevance of PSB to society or alter its core values. The new digital technologies that reinforce both commercial pressures and globalisation, do not reduce the role of PSB, on the contrary, they increase the need for it.”

Posted by Mark Scrimshaw

Filed under: Europe

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