A MEETING between the new producers of Songs of Praise, and the broadcasting union BECTU, has been adjourned amid threats of strike action from BBC staff over the broadcaster’s handling of the tender.
Avanti Media won the rights to produce Songs of Praise in a bidding war against BBC Studios, last month (News, 17 March). The BBC later confirmed that the Religion and Ethics department at BBC Studios in Salford, Manchester, was to fold, and several redundancies made, as a direct result of the loss (News, 7 April).
The head of BECTU, Gerry Morrissey, told The Sunday Times this week that the remaining BBC staff who had worked on Songs of Praise, and who are due to transfer to Avanti Media, in June, were considering strike action, should the BBC fail to offer satisfactory alternatives. He was speaking before a meeting between BECTU and BBC staff, on Monday. Avanti Media representatives were due to attend, but adjourned.
Mr Morrissey said in a statement afterwards that the union was also seeking an urgent consultation with the director-general of the BBC, Lord Hall, and representatives from BBC Studios and the commissioning team responsible for Songs of Praise. Its treatment of staff had been “dire” throughout the competitive process, he said.
The BBC removed its guarantee to produce Songs of Praise in-house in September, as part of a Charter agreement with the Government to open 40 per cent of its returning television series to a competitive market within two years — and all by 2028.
“What due diligence is being conducted to ensure that those bidding for BBC productions are committed to the onward, good treatment of transferring BBC staff, including the honouring of staff terms and conditions? From the evidence in front of us, the BBC appears to want to wash its hands of BBC staff, and BECTU will not allow that to happen.”
BECTU has said that the option of redundancy, secondment, and protection for BBC staff not wishing to transfer to Avanti Media would be on the agenda. “We are increasingly of the view that secondment should be used to staff productions contracted out to independents, only then will BBC workers have the certainty they deserve,” Mr Morrissey said.
“BBC workers shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of the disruption caused by the BBC’s decision to open up its production slate to competition from the independent sector with the threat of a decline in their terms and conditions.”
The BBC has asked for a “progress report” into its handling of three television programmes put out to competition so far: Songs of Praise, Holby City, and A Question of Sport. In a letter to all BBC staff, last month, Lord Hall said that he had requested that the director of BBC Northern Ireland, Peter Johnston, investigate the tenders.
“Peter will also see if there are any insights of value to the compete and compare process in Radio,” he wrote. Mr Johnston is expected to report later this year.
A spokesperson for the BBC told The Sunday Times: “We haven’t agreed a pay deal for BBC staff or changes to terms and conditions with the unions yet, and have not been informed of any dispute.”