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BBC to slash 2,000 jobs amid budget cuts

business Updated: Oct 06, 2011 20:38 IST

AFP
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The BBC said Thursday it will cut around 2,000 jobs in the most far-reaching change in its history as the world's largest public broadcaster falls prey to government austerity measures.

Director General Mark Thompson told staff that the British Broadcasting Corporation plans annual savings of £670 million pounds ($1.03 billion dollars, 777 million euros) over five years but no services would be completely cut.

Union leaders warned of strikes and former BBC chiefs condemned the cuts.

The "Beeb", as it is affectionately known in Britain, must make budget cuts of 20 percent following a freeze in the licence fee, which all British households with a television must pay.

"We need to come up with a BBC which is smaller in its size in many ways, employing fewer people, much less property, but really focused on giving the public the things that they want most," Thompson said.

"The full portfolio of services survives."

In a report following a nine-month consultation with the corporation's more than 22,000 staff, the BBC said saving money would involve "the most far-reaching transformation in our history."

"This involves painful choices for the BBC, including significant job losses at every level of the organisation," added the report, titled "Delivering Quality First".

It said there would be an "estimated net loss of around 2,000 posts across the BBC" up to 2017, adding however that they would try to avoid compulsory redundancies.

The BBC will also relocate 1,000 staff from London to Salford in northwest England.

But Thompson warned that the BBC -- known around the world for both its news and current affairs output as well as its drama and entertainment programmes -- could not maintain its reputation if it had to make any further cuts.

"It's my judgment that this is the last time the BBC will be able to make this level of savings without a substantial loss of services or quality or both," he said.

The corporation said budgets for Radio 4, its flagship current affairs station, would remain unchanged, while there would be only a three percent reduction in funding for BBC One, the main terrestrial television channel.

Extra investment in children's channels from the broadcaster that brought the world "Teletubbies" would be protected, it said.

But there would be bigger cuts in other departments including 15 percent in sport. The report said a recent decision to share Formula One rights with BSkyB was evidence of the new approach.

There would also be far more streamlining between channels and services and a reduction in the number of managers.

The BBC receives £3.5 billion ($5.4 billion, 4.05 billion euros) a year from the licence fee, according to its annual report.

In a government spending review last year the licence fee was frozen at £145.50 per household until 2016-17. Responsibility for funding the BBC World Service was also transferred from Britain's foreign ministry to the BBC from 2014.

The BBC currently employs 22,899 people, according to its annual report. That figure includes those in the World Service and the commercial enterprise BBC Worldwide.

The general secretary of the technicians union Bectu, Gerry Morrissey, warned of strike action.

"They are destroying jobs, and destroying the BBC," he said. "Unless the BBC changes its stance, I believe we will see strike action at the BBC before Christmas."

Lorraine Heggessey, former controller of BBC One, said the cuts would have a wider effect on the British economy at time when it is struggling with just 0.1 percent growth and the wider ripples from the eurozone crisis.

"When the BBC sneezes, the whole creative sector catches a cold," she told BBC Radio.

"This is not just going to affect the BBC. It's going to affect hundreds, probably thousands of jobs in the independent production sector. It's going to affect actors, it's going to affect writers, it's going to affect performers, it's going to affect crews."