BBC Singers: decision to scrap choir reversed after public outcry

The BBC has U-turned on its decision to scrap the BBC Singers chamber choir after pressure from musicians, the public and politicians.

The decision to close the BBC Singers, announced in March, was expected to result in the loss of 20 posts but was met with fierce opposition from conductors, choirmasters and senior members of government and the opposition.

Nevertheless, it is not clear if the corporation intends to continue with plans to reduce salaried orchestral posts across its English orchestras by about 20%.

The U-turn is the second performed by the BBC this month after it suspended and then reinstated Gary Lineker over his use of social media to criticise the government’s migration policy.

The Musicians’ Union said that after intense discussions with the BBC over the last few weeks, the corporation had decided to reverse the decision to close the BBC Singers.

The choir will resume its place in this year’s Proms programme and the union will be entering into consultation with the BBC to ensure the ensemble has a secure future. It added it would be talking to the corporation about the proposed 20% cuts.

Jo Laverty, the Musicians’ Union national organiser for orchestras, said: “The weeks since the BBC’s announcement have impacted all the individuals affected in the most brutal way. We are right behind every member affected, and as we enter negotiation we will be consulting our members in the Singers and BBC Orchestras to ensure the outcome is as positive as possible for them all.”

Naomi Pohl, the union’s general secretary, said: “The outpouring of love for the BBC Singers and orchestras over the past few weeks has been incredible and we know our members are hugely grateful for all the support they’ve received.

“We hope the BBC recognises the real quality and value they bring to the UK’s music industry, international music makers and fans and BBC licence fee payers who will be keener than ever to see them in action live and via broadcast. The work they do in music education is also crucial. They are frankly irreplaceable.”

The BBC confirmed it had decided to “suspend” a proposal to close the BBC Singers choir, while it “actively explores” alternative funding models.

A statement said: “The BBC has received approaches from a number of organisations offering alternative funding models for the BBC Singers. We have agreed with the Musicians’ Union that we will suspend the proposal to close the BBC Singers while we actively explore these options.

“If viable, these alternative options would secure the future of the ensemble. We can also confirm the Singers will appear in this year’s BBC Proms.

“We know that the BBC Singers are much loved across the classical community and their professionalism, quality and standing has never been in question. We have said throughout these were difficult decisions.

“Therefore, we want to fully explore the options that have been brought to us to see if there is another way forward. The BBC still needs to make savings and still plans to invest more widely in the future of choral singing across the UK.

“The BBC, as the biggest commissioner of music and one of the biggest employers of musicians in the country, recognises it has a vital role to play in supporting orchestral and choral music.

“We will continue to engage with the Musicians’ Union and the other BBC unions about our proposals on the BBC’s English orchestras. We are committed to meaningful consultation and to avoiding compulsory redundancies, wherever possible.”

The shadow arts minister, Barbara Keeley, said: “This is a welcome decision, but the BBC orchestras are still at risk, on a path of bit-by-bit erosion.

“The BBC should set the BBC Singers on a long-term footing as soon as possible, and remove the threat to jobs in the BBC Philharmonic, Concert and Symphony Orchestras. Rather than constantly attack the BBC, the government should bring forward the media bill to provide stability for the BBC.”