Less is more

Quite some years ago, we worked on a major event with the BBC and The Economist featuring Tom Peters. This involved various meetings at the BBC (you went to them in those days) and during that experience quite a few things struck me:

  • the sheer number of people that they would field at such meetings – lots of people making notes on the same special pads, so much so that I called them ‘The Clipboard Club’
  • none of them seemed commercially minded
  • not many of them were at all creative
  • they all had a very high opinion of themselves
  • they were smug in their positions, well pleased with their career achievements
  • they were happy to pay large fees to secure the services of people who should actually have been paying them for securing airtime to promote their business (incidentally this applies now to ITV and Simon Cowell – don’t pay him, charge him to build his and Sony’s brand.
  • I felt that I was paying for all of them (through the licence fee) but they saw themselves as anything but the civil servants that they, in fact, were (and are).

It has taken until now for all this to catch up with the BBC and the disclosure of job titles, salaries and top talent fees has made us all re-examine just what is going on. Actually, it took the novelist and former BBC Governor, Baroness (PD) James to skewer the Director General of the BBC and expose the ‘extraordinarily large salaries that are paid’ in what is a ‘basically, very unwieldy and very bureaucratic’ BBC.

Apparently, 375 of the staff of the BBC earn over £100,000 and 37 earn more than £170,000 and more than the Prime Minister. PD James ‘wonders what exactly these people are doing.’ For example they have a Director of Marketing, Communications and Audiences (£313,000), a Director of Communications (£225,940), a Director of Brand and Planning (£167,14) and a Director of Audiences (£159,000). She asked – ‘What actually is going on here? I’m just not convinced that we need to pay these (people) this amount of money.’

The BBC kids itself that it operates commercially, because it claims to compete with commercial television companies, but this is nonsense. It is not subject to the same pressures that commercial organisations and their ‘rivals’ are under.

At the moment those outside the public sector (and the BBC is in the public sector) have to try to produce more and more with less and less. In the BBC, it is the other way around – they seem to produce less and less with more and more.

The truth is that they need a lot less people and need not pay them as much – staff would work there for less – for the prestige and privilege that working there bestows.

This is all symptomatic of problems throughout the public sector and the economy at large where the public sector is far, far too big – there are too many entrenched positions that are not questioned and pay-scales that are in excess of what needs to be paid.

This is the next battleground – it applies in the civil service and the NHS, in quangoland and the BBC – commercial rules should be applied. After all – we are all paying for it and they are spending our money. We in the commercial sector are fighting to take business decisions that fit with the tough times we are living through. We should insist that the BBC and its like face the same challenges.

Published on Feb 13, 2010 by Neil Thomas