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06 October 2011

DQF - First Impressions

Like most folk with an interest in broadcast news, I've been glued to Twitter for the past hour for live updates on Mark Thompson's Delivering Quality First (DQF) proposals.

National commentators will concentrate on the overall job cuts (2000) and on the exit from West London - the latter of negligible interest to those of us working, or training people to work, in the regional operations of the BBC. And The Guardian will tell us that their beloved Archers is safe, even as other regional production is shunted from Birmingham to Bristol.

For Local Radio the verdict seems to be pretty much as was widely predicted; all stations safe, some sharing of afternoon and evening programmes, details being given to teams as I write this.

The shock and upset for me came in the 40% cut in regional current affairs.

That will have a devastating effect on very small teams in the regions, and could remove the regional flavour from BBC1 and BBC2 outside the specific regional news programmes (Look North etc).

The happier news is that a further thousand posts are moving to Salford; it would have been so easy to dilute the commitment to making the BBC a truly national service under the guise of financial pressure.

Moving the whole of BBC3 and flagship Radio 4 consumer show You and Yours to Salford helps secure the future of the northern production centre as an equal, not junior, partner with London.

The fact that so many London staff are still unwilling to contemplate a move north from the capital (one tweet: "Move to Salford or death? - most would choose death") keeps a glimmer of hope alive for those currently in training, or newly qualified as broadcast journalists, who are willing and very able to fill those roles and by so doing help change the complexion of the BBC to reflect that of the UK as a whole faster than would happen in more prosperous times.

The challenge facing the BBC's managers in the regions now is to achieve 11% more productivity with 11% fewer staff. That should be doable.

Losing one in ten will be tough. Those, probably a majority, already working to capacity will struggle to work 11% harder and simultaneously pick up the work of those who depart; but is everyone working flat out? Everyone? Really?

The tougher bit will be to achieve the 25% operational savings. That's bound to have a direct impact on the programmes listeners see and hear. Freelance shifts, already tight, will become virtually non-existent; perhaps more importantly, contracts will become even scarcer than they have been for the past 18 months, removing the 'bridge' between casual engagements for a day or two and staff posts with holidays and pensions. That's bad news for those of us involved in training the next generation.

More reaction to come later .......

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