BBC Local staff to vote on strike action over radio overhaul
BBC Local staff are likely to strike next month over changes to radio schedules after a journalists’ union announced industrial action would be put to members in a formal ballot.
Last year the corporation announced plans to introduce greater programme sharing on local radio in England at times of the day when it says listening is typically lower.
This would mean on weekdays after 2pm the BBC would produce 20 afternoon programmes across England and 10 programmes between 6pm to 10pm with a number of local stations sharing programming. The changes would result in the loss of about 48 staff posts.
The changes have been criticised by MPs and unions.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) put the proposals to its BBC Local members in a consultative – or non-binding – ballot, which saw 70% reject them. In an earlier consultative poll, members voted in favour of industrial action.
On Monday, in a memo seen by the Guardian, the NUJ wrote to members to say it would hold a formal, legally binding ballot for industrial action and urged its members to support a strike. The timetable would see members strike in the week starting 13 March.
The memo reads: “Industrial action isn’t something we resort to easily but the BBC have made it clear that the offer on the table regarding programme sharing is their final one and they now intend to move forward with their plans, starting with advertising some new roles including those of presenter/producer. That leaves us with no option but to move to a formal ballot.”
It added: “It is now vital that you vote yes for both strike action and action short of a strike in the formal ballot. This will be a postal vote and legally binding.
“To have voted in favour of action in the two consultative ballots but not to now follow that through in the postal ballot would leave us in a really weakened position.
“Not just over programme sharing but also in our fight to avoid compulsory redundancies, selection for retention and to ensure existing terms and conditions are maintained for everyone.”
The ballot is expected to open on 6 February, the correspondence says, and will be open for three weeks.
The strike would come at a time of significant unrest among workers across the country, with industrial action taking place in healthcare, teaching and transport sectors.
A BBC spokesperson said: “Our goal over the next 12 months is to modernise our BBC Local services in England to strengthen our online provision for communities across the country.
“We have listened carefully to the feedback we have received about proposed changes to BBC Local Radio programming. As a result, we are making a number of amendments to the original plan in order to strike the best possible balance between live and on-demand services.”
Meanwhile, a new report has said the BBC’s economics reporting does not lean conclusively towards the left or right politically, but can be influenced by groupthink and hype and be led too strongly by the Westminster narrative.
An analysis of the corporation’s coverage, which its authors said also largely applied to the rest of the UK media, found that “too many journalists lack understanding of basic economics or lack confidence reporting it”.
The report, written by Michael Blastland and Sir Andrew Dilnot, who created BBC Radio 4’s More or Less programme, highlighted public debt as one of the areas most affected by the lack of understanding.