Partial reprieve for BBC Inverness job losses

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By a Newsnet reporter  

The planned cut of two senior English language posts from the BBC offices in Inverness has been reduced to one, according to the media industry news site allmediascotland.   A spokesperson for the BBC told the news site: “As an organisation that has an ongoing dialogue with our staff, we’ve been talking through our efficiency plans with staff and unions as part of the consultation process.

“Following those talks – and the offer of a voluntary redundancy in another part of the news operation – we have been able to reduce our news post closures in Inverness from two to one. That process will begin next week.”

Under the cuts plan, 35 jobs were to be lost by BBC Scotland.  Eight were to be lost in radio, two from the Gaelic department, 17 from news and current affairs, six from marketing and communications and two from new media.  The number of news staff based in Inverness was to be halved.

The job cuts were deemed necessary in order to implement a 16% budget cut after the BBC and the Westminster government agreed 2 years ago to freeze the TV licence fee for six years.

The news that BBC Scotland, already frequently criticised for its alleged Central Belt bias, was to make disproportionate cuts to its Highland staff was condemned by local MSPs and business organisations.  

Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, said:  

“We believe these cuts will compromise the delivery of news across all platforms in the Highlands. The BBC reports on vital issues and developments across this region, which is comparable to Belgium in size, and we believe the organisation’s ability to continue doing this is now at risk.

“Of course, we understand the BBC has to make cost savings but many people already feel that the Highland lacks its fair share of voice when compared to other regions of Scotland, particularly those in the Central Belt.”  

Earlier this week it was reported that only fifteen staff members have accepted a voluntary redundancy package, and claims were made that some staff were being intimidated and pressured into accepting redundancies.  

When the cuts were announced, Paul Holleran, Scottish organiser of the National Union of Journalists said:

“While we knew cuts were coming I think it would be no exaggeration to state that people in radio and the newsroom in particular were shocked at the large numbers affected.

“At a time when BBC Scotland should be getting more resources to deal with the growing demand for political debate around the independence referendum and what kind of a future we want for Scotland then these cuts are forced through because of the bad deal over the licence fee settlement.”

The jobs cut announcement came less than a week after First Minister Alex Salmond described the Westminster controlled framework for broadcasting in Scotland as “outdated”.  Mr Salmond insisted that, regardless of the outcome of the independence referendum, control over broadcasting in Scotland should be moved from London to Edinburgh.  

However the anti-independence parties have ruled out any devolution of broadcasting.  At the recent Conservative party conference in Birmingham, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson argued that the single national broadcaster was essential to a “unitary state”.  

In August, Labour’s shadow Scotland secretary Margaret Curran also ruled out the devolution of broadcasting to Scotland, arguing an independent broadcaster would “destabilise” the creative industries in Scotland.

In most self-governing territories in Europe (the UK and Italy being the main exceptions), control of local broadcasting is devolved to the relevant assembly or parliament.  Catalonia has a thriving television sector, with five channels of its own including a 24 hour news channel.  In Italy, although the national broadcaster RAI is centrally controlled, there are two separate RAI channels for the self-governing province of South Tyrol where many people speak German.

Even tiny Gagauzia, with just 150,000 inhabitants, has control over its own broadcasting.  Gagauzia is a self-governing territory with an ethnic Turkic population in southern Moldova, the poorest country in Europe.