Written evidence from BECTU |
1. BECTU is the trade union for workers in the
audiovisual and live entertainment sectors. We are a recognised
trade union throughout the BBC, specifically including the World
Service, in which hundreds of our members work. We therefore have
a strong interest in this issue.
2. BECTU believes:
- that the World Service cuts are disproportionate
and excessive, especially in the context of the lesser cuts to
the rest of the FCO budget;
- that the cuts will cause unnecessary harm not
just to the staff who lose their jobs and to the audiences which
lose their services but to the international standing of the UK;
- that they should be reconsidered and renegotiated.
3. We note that following the Government's
comprehensive spending review, the World Service is now facing
a reduction in spending of 16% in real terms over the next three
years; that this corresponds to 20% in cash terms; and that the
cuts will be at a level of £46 million per year by 2014.
4. We believe that this is a disproportionate
and unnecessary level of cuts, especially in a context where the
rest of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget is being cut
by 10% or less in real terms.
5. We believe this excessive level of World Service
cuts should be reconsidered and renegotiated within the overall
FCO and Department for International Development budgets. We believe
additional funds for the World Service can and should be made
available, especially since the World Service budget constitutes
just 0.5% of the Government's total spending on international
activities and since the World Service can also be considered
as making a contribution to development assistance.
6. We note that as a result of the cuts, the
BBC will close 5 services altogether (Albanian, Serbian, Macedonian,
Portuguese for Africa, Caribbean English); cease broadcasts in
Russia, Mandarin Chinese, Turkish, Spanish, Ukrainian, Azeri and
Vietnamese); and cease short-wave services in Hindi (with a massive
10 million regular weekly listeners) Indonesia, Swahili, Kyrgyz
7. The World Service is currently the world's
most-recognised news service. However, the proposed cuts will
lead to an estimated reduction of 30 million in the World Service
audience. It will no longer be the leading international news
provider by audience and will fall behind the Voice of America
8. The World Service is seen by the public as
the organisation that does most to serve UK interests internationally.
This is confirmed by surveys conducted by Chatham House and Populus.
The Service is a key component of the UK's 'soft
power' and influence in the world - with
an indirect but significant linkage to enhanced political and
9. The Service is of immense value to the populations
covered, who benefit from a trusted source of news independent
of local pressures. Broadcasting is still an essential source
of information, education and entertainment in large areas where
internet access is limited and literacy levels are still not high.
10. All of this is undermined by the cuts. Withdrawal
from services and territories is likely to end the BBC's presence
forever, since relaunching would simply be too expensive and vital
goodwill would have been lost. Far from having disproportionate
influence on the world stage, the UK now risks punching below
its weight internationally.
11. We face proposals to close 650 posts by 2014-15,
constituting more than 25% of the 2,400 jobs at the World Service.
These extend over all areas, including foreign language services,
news-gathering, playout, finance, studio management and TV operations.
480 posts are due to be cut over the next 12 months.
12. We are specifically concerned about the impact
on foreign language staff whose UK residence depends on their
employment in the World Service and who face an uncertain - possibly
unsafe - future if they are forced to return home.
13. As indicated above, we believe cuts on this
level are disproportionate and unnecessary. They should be reconsidered.
14. We have a broader level of disagreement with
the extent and the pace of what we consider to be an ideologically-driven
rather than economically-justified level of cuts in the Comprehensive
Spending Review. Furthermore, we believe that while the Foreign
Secretary has indicated support for a strong World Service, he
has not defended it adequately - in notable contrast to the lesser
level of cuts to be applied to the rest of the FCO budget.
15. However, we also believe that BBC management
can be justifiably criticised. In our view, they have prematurely
and weakly accepted a settlement on this issue. We believe that
hundreds of World Service staff are now being asked to pay with
their jobs for this ill-considered agreement.
16. We believe that World Service cuts on the
level proposed are excessive, disproportionate and unjustified.
They will cause unnecessary harm not just to the staff who lose
their jobs and the audiences which lose their services, but to
the international standing of the UK. They should now be reconsidered.
7 February 2011