An independent report into the cost-saving proposals for BBC Local Radio has recommended halving the number of Managing Editors across the 40 stations.
John Myers was commissioned by the corporation to identify ways of making savings away from programme budgets through the Delivering Quality First (DQF) scheme.
The original DQF proposals would have meant reducing BBC Local Radio’s overall budget by £15m, but Myers concludes that the maximum total savings that can be made without affecting the quality of output would be £9m although his suggestions include a further £2m saving to the BBC by having one Managing Editor for every two stations. He reports that while average pay for Managing Editors is £60,000 the total employment costs of those executives is around £100,000 – so reducing the number of them by 20 would save £2m a year.
Myers also recommends that proposals to introduce more programme sharing during daytime hours are scrapped, although he supports the idea of a ‘Radio England’ network service to operate in the evenings.
In his report, published today by the BBC, Myers is also critical of the high proportion of BBC Local Radio’s budgets which are apportioned to central costs. 38% of the total £115m budget is given over to costs for ‘transmission, central management functions, network departments, buildings, contribution of news content, facilities and much more’.
Following publication of the Myers Report, BBC bosses will now go back to the BBC Trust with revised DQF proposals for Local Radio next month. Last month, Trust chairman Lord Patten called for a re-think on some of the original ideas – including plans to have regional programmes during daytime hours.
Controller of BBC English Regions, David Holdsworth, said: “We are grateful to John Myers for his report which will inform our thinking as we consider the BBC Trust recommendations on savings to be made in BBC Local Radio. We value his endorsement of BBC Local Radio as an excellent service, staffed by dedicated professionals, passionate about delivering much-valued output.”
Highlights from the Myers Report on BBC Local Radio
Today’s report finds that BBC local radio is in some cases over-staffed and appears to manage when people go on attachment elsewhere in the corporation and aren’t replaced. Myers visited 9 stations late in 2011 and noted that at least one member of staff was ill in each location. “Multiplied across the network this is a significant reduction for any company to endure and it did not appear unusual,” he said. “The smaller the workforce, the more profound this becomes, adding greater pressure onto everyone shoulders with a view that 80% of the staff are doing 100% of the work.” He also reports that each station’s breakfast show has around seven or eight people working on it.
He identifies a possible saving by having one show to fill the gap between mid-morning and drive-time – some stations already have a four-hour programme with one presenter but others have two shows lasting two hours, meaning more salaries.
At management level Myers suggests either deleting all BBC Local Radio Assistant Editor roles or giving Managing Editors two stations each to manage, and notes that he favours the latter.
Myers calls for a scheme called ‘growth in job’ payments to be urgently addressed. This can give a member of staff who hasn’t been promoted an additional payment of £4,600 after six years’ service, as a result of national agreements. He also raises concerns that management are powerless to control salary increases of staff who are members of the NUJ. “While there may be a counter argument that journalists in commercial radio are underpaid, few would not agree that these pay and conditions are surprisingly generous when compared with digital, commercial radio and the print media in general,” he reports.
The report suggests the BBC doesn’t achieve value for money in negotiations over football commentary rights for BBC local radio – because the fees are negotiated by local Managing Editors but are never recharged back to the station. Myers recommends absorbing the sports rights into central negotiations or employing a dedicated negotiator to handle rights across all Local Radio stations.
Myers praised journalism and a number of the programmes but highlighted a worrying decline of audience across the network. He asserted that ‘retaining a local output in daytime and weekends is paramount to the future of the local radio network’, and as such the ‘Radio England’ should be explored further to save cost in the evenings. “There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that keeping it local with good but not great talent will alter listening patterns,” he says. “The (new) programme should have a high degree of speech content so that it is truly original and the show should not be commissioned until significant research has been carried out on the available audience gap. This proposal may not suit the local radio purist or those who value certain programmes or presenters, but if you have to save money then tough choices have to be made. It is time to think differently and if the present offering is not delivering, then you are faced with a stark choice. It is purely emotional and perhaps even political to stick with the present offering.”
He also recommends that the Radio England programmes be offered out to the independent production sector and suggests a budget of around £300,000 a year is made available to deliver cost-effective yet quality shared England-wide programmes.
Key recommendations of the Myers Report on BBC Local Radio:
1. Protect the diversity of the output, reduce the risk of further audience decline and continue to invest in local programming in peak hours and weekends. Improve productivity by reviewing organorgrams, introducing sharper working practices and reducing general staff budgets at each of the 35 full service stations by £150,000 (£50,000 from the five smaller stations) saving c£5.5m (rounded figures).
2. This delivers savings of £11.0m if Managing Editors are shared or £9.0m if not with the proposed Radio England investment support.
3. Regionalise the role of trails and station production.
4. Introduce a ‘contract only’ system for all on-air talent within two years.
5. Review how Sports rights are negotiated and use the collective power of the BBC to negotiate a better deal with the Premier League and the FA either by adding this to their current radio rights discussions or employing a skilled negotiator to deal with football rights for all their local services. The BBC must avoid over paying both for content and against the market demand in local communities.
6. Invest in a distinctive evening programme directly relatable to the networks core audience. Provide sufficient budget to ensure the talent and ideas are supported to add value to the overall proposition. Increased spend potential £0.3m.
7. Introduce a simplified management structure within each station and give them the discretion and power to manage effectively. Introduce relevant management training below Managing Editor level and have a goal of a maximum of only 3 people with managerial responsibility at each site.
8. Deliver a considered list of services that could be better delivered under local budgets and provide appropriate support for placing under local control. Retain the benefits of centralisation where there is merit.
9. Maintain specialist programming and continue to regionalize this where appropriate.
10. Evaluate the current HR systems and work smarter to remove non-performing staff more quickly.
11. Investigate how staff salary levels can be reduced within the current agreements. Deliver a plan to pay staff according to skill, talent and local market conditions.
12. Re-evaluate the role of attachments within local radio and introduce a maximum three-month duration per person.
13. Ensure no specialist programme goes to air without the station delivering compelling audio trails that invite lighter listeners to sample the station at other times.Hear more radio industry news like this at the top of the hour on inRadio - the radio industry's very own radio station. Listen now in a new window whilst you continue reading RadioToday or press play below.