BBC cuts to classical performing jobs criticised as ‘utterly devastating’

A major musicians’ trade union has described proposed cuts to the BBC’s classical performing groups as “utterly devastating”.

The BBC has announced plans to scrap its in-house chamber choir, the BBC Singers, and reduce salaried orchestral posts across the BBC English Orchestras by around 20%.

The Musicians’ Union (MU), which represents more than 30,000 members working across the sector, said it was in “urgent talks” with the broadcaster over the plans.

The decision to close the BBC Singers will result in the loss of 20 posts, the BBC said.

The broadcaster added that the move was part of a plan “to invest more widely in the future of choral singing across the UK” and launch a choral development programme for new talent.

It added that it aims to create “agile ensembles” that can work with “more musicians and broadcasting from more venues – up to 50 – in different parts of the country”.

As part of this plan, those working across three English Orchestras – Symphony, Concert and Philharmonic – will be offered a voluntary redundancy programme to reach the 20% target.

The announcement forms part of a new strategy for classical music which the broadcaster said “prioritises quality, agility and impact”.

MU general secretary Naomi Pohl said: “The BBC is the biggest employer and engager of musicians in the UK and it plays a unique role in the ecosystem of our music industry.

“From Glastonbury to the Proms, from Jools Holland to BBC Radio, its coverage, support and promotion of British musical talent nationally and internationally is unrivalled.

“It is because we appreciate the BBC’s role so much that these proposed cuts are so utterly devastating.”

She added that the MU would “fight for every job” and urged the BBC to “look at alternative measures”.

Jo Laverty, MU organiser for orchestras, added: “The BBC performing groups are a key asset that sets the BBC apart from commercial broadcasters, and the BBC’s recent Classical Music Review gave the impression this was well understood and indicated a full commitment from the broadcaster to their ongoing employment.

“To now hear of potential redundancies across the BBC orchestras in England and the closure of the Singers as a performing group is unthinkable.”

The announcement follows a review in 2022 looking at the classical sector and the BBC’s role within it.

The new strategy also includes doubling funding for music education and launching new training initiatives, and creating a single digital home for its orchestras.

A statement from the BBC said: “We are fully engaged with the Musicians’ Union and these upcoming talks. We appreciate any change can be unsettling and we will continue to regularly engage with, listen to and support our musicians throughout this process.

“We have excellent orchestral management teams who work closely with our musicians on a 1:1 level and are always available to support individuals. We will also make sure they are aware of wellbeing support services, like our employee assistance programme.”

Charlotte Moore, chief content officer at the BBC, said: “This is the first major review of classical music at the BBC in a generation.

“This new strategy is bold, ambitious and good for the sector and for audiences who love classical music.

“That doesn’t mean that we haven’t had to make some difficult decisions, but equally they are the right ones for the future.

“Great classical music should be available and accessible to everyone, and we’re confident these measures will ensure more people will engage with music, have better access to it, and that we’ll be able to play a greater role in developing and nurturing the musicians and music lovers of tomorrow.”

The BBC previously confirmed that due to a freeze in the licence fee and inflation it faces a £400 million funding gap by 2026/2027 and must make savings.

Last year it announced hundreds of job cuts to its news service.

Tim Davie, who took over from Lord Tony Hall as director-general in September 2020, has overseen a slimming down of the corporation since starting in the role.