Three-quarters of BBC Newsbeat staff decline to relocate to Birmingham

Vast majority of youth news service’s 40 employees indicate they will not move to new base in Midlands

The vast majority of London-based staff at Radio 1’s Newsbeat service have declined to relocate to a new base in Birmingham, as the BBC faces the challenge of rebuilding entire teams from scratch.

In the latest example of the broadcaster’s difficult and lengthy restructuring process, three-quarters of Newsbeat’s approximately 40 staff have indicated they do not want to move outside the capital, according to sources in the corporation.

The relocation is part of an enormous restructuring of BBC News, prompted by a combination of cuts caused by government-imposed reductions to the licence fee, a political desire to move staff out of London, and a rethink of how the newsroom should operate.

One employee at Newsbeat, which is tasked with attracting younger audiences to the BBC’s news output, said they feared losing influence over top news executives who will remain in London.

They said: “Managers are yet to give a single example of how moving its dedicated youth newsroom 100 miles away – without any other news department – will help the British public better understand issues relating to drugs, housing, mental health and cultural appropriation. If they don’t listen now, they won’t listen then.”

One of the issues for BBC staff leaving the capital is that they will lose the London-weighting on their salaries, in effect requiring them to accept a pay cut. Others are fearful of leaving London because of fewer alternative media career options outside the capital and concerns that losing their place in the city’s overheating housing market would mean they could never return.

The BBC World Service’s business news output is also facing losing almost all its staff after most declined to relocate to Salford.

In both cases, the reluctance of London-based staff to move – an issue also faced by Channel 4 with its transferring of some roles to Leeds – could provide opportunities for local recruits. When the Newsbeat relocation was first announced this year, the Guardian reported that one member of staff had said: “Good luck trying to get young, exciting journalists to move to Digbeth.”

In response, the West Midlands mayor, Andy Street, said: “I understand some in London have tough decisions to make following the BBC’s announcement, but I won’t accept the sneering at our wonderful region. If you don’t want to come, don’t. We have incredible young and diverse talent that will be all too happy to take your place.”

The issue has come to a head at the end of a long-running and tortuous “preference” exercise. In a process described by one BBC employee as “like a university application form that’s left people stuck in clearing”, almost all the BBC’s news staff have been asked to essentially reapply for their positions by listing their three preferred jobs.

Although this was designed to ease the restructuring process, it has had the side-effect of highlighting where groups of staff are deeply unhappy, with some managers becoming aware almost all of their teams wanted to move to new jobs.

Some staff who failed to get their preferred options say they are being offered roles that are unsuitable. Young employees hired for their digital experience have been offered jobs writing radio news bulletins, while people with no experience of making television have been placed on TV shows. There have also been issues with integrating some of the BBC’s disability access schemes.

Listeners and viewers will soon start noticing the changes, with many established on-air names having already taken retirement and others preparing to go. The longtime BBC technology correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones, is among those who have chosen to leave rather than relocate with his team to its new base in Glasgow.

As part of the overall changes there will be a significant reduction in the number of journalists who work exclusively for specific BBC broadcast programmes, with the same news stories instead likely to appear across multiple outlets and shows throughout the day.

The BBC said retraining would be available for staff working in new formats and a majority of staff would be doing roles for which they expressed a preference.


Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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