October 17, 2007 5:40 am
BBC executives will propose property sales and a hiring freeze alongside deep cuts to the broadcaster’s staffing on Wednesday as the corporation seeks to shrink its activities in line with a below-inflation licence fee settlement.
Television Centre, the corporation’s west London headquarters, is to be sold, together with Woodlands, a nearby office housing BBC Worldwide, the commercial division.
Mark Thompson, the director-general, will present his plans at a meeting of the BBC Trust, the body that took over from the board of governors in January, which will also review proposals to commercialise BBC news websites outside the UK.
The plans, which the Financial Times revealed last week, would affect as many as 2,800 jobs. They would entail a mixture of compulsory redundancies, a recruitment freeze and retraining efforts to move some of those affected into areas where the BBC wants to expand its activities, such as new media.
The BBC has again turned to its property portfolio to help fill the £2bn shortfall between the 2.3 per cent real annual increases in the licence fee it had asked for over the next six years and the real-terms cut agreed by ministers last December.
The BBC is understood to have received some expressions of interest from property developers, with estimates of Television Centre’s value ranging from £100m to £200m.
Affected staff will be moved into Broadcasting House, the art deco central London office refurbished at a cost of £800m, or the media village being constructed in Salford, near Manchester.
Union representatives are planning demonstrations outside Broadcasting House on Wednesday in protest at cuts that could affect up to 20 per cent of staff in some sections, and see more integration between its television, radio and online output.
Mr Thompson is also seeking to cut costs by reining in the salaries paid to its top talent, after strong criticism of the multi-million pound packages paid to retain stars such as Jonathan Ross. Executives are anxious to push through the cuts without losing such stars, or experienced production staff.
BBC executives are also bringing back to the Trust a proposal to allow BBC news websites accessed outside the UK to carry advertising for the first time. The proposal is part of a broader plan to repackage bbc.co.uk’s news content for an international website called bbc.com.
The Trust accepted that the BBC must invest more online and could not use the licence fee for such international ambitions, but it told executives in February that more work needed to be done on the proposals.
BBC executives are believed to have come up with more details on how advertising revenue would be reinvested in the BBC’s global news operations and its public service output in the UK, but some staff remain unsettled, with one insider describing the Trust meeting as “a good day to bury ad news”.
The cuts, to be announced on Thursday, could coincide with the release of a Deloitte investigation into phone-in competitions at ITV.
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