Suppose – a dream or a nightmare – that you woke up tomorrow morning and found yourself utterly changed into Lord Hall, director general of the BBC. What would you have to worry about (apart from fixing a retirement date)? Well, there’s the new royal charter swinging into action, with its insistence on heavy budget cuts, and, contrapuntally, bigger slices of the diminished cake for the “nations and regions”, which means everyone except W1A.
Then there’s the new unitary board running your total show, with a chair parachuted in from Whitehall and a remit that may, or may not, leave scope for creative thinking. (Perhaps that’s one reason why your main programme chieftains haven’t made the board cut.)
Who’s on the phone now? Ofcom again. Ofcom now regulates every jot and tittle of your existence, monitoring those regional splits, plus programme quality, diversity and every other blinking “-ity” going. There are dozens of new regulators hired for this task – and MPs on the culture committee eager to hold them, and everything else, to account. And henceforth (see last week) you won’t even be able to hire your own auditors. Enter, with total purview, the National Audit Office.
So, in 2011, the BBC undertook to shed 2,000 jobs: but only 847 have gone. So, five years back, the BBC aimed to lose 20% of staff earning £150,000, but the number of them has increased, not diminished. Senior managers are 1.6% of the workforce today, not the promised 1%. And there is more, much more, where this came from.
You can argue that payroll has fallen while 3,400 have been made redundant. Overarching figures. But the NAO deals in precise ones (amid glad cries from Fleet Street’s gang of habitual critics). The BBC can always be belaboured for missing some target or other.
Surely, you may say, such big pictures are always very imprecise. Show me one giant private-sector media company that has navigated through to 2017 on the basis of 2011 planning unscathed or unaltered. Look at the necessary recruiting surge of hi-tech managers going where any new action is. Don’t they understand the imperative of flexibility in this media age?
Obviously not, Lord H. It’s a wonder decent programmes get made at all in the nightmare on Portland Place.