Strategy feedback sought

BBC Branches are being asked for views on a major strategy paper on future union activity in the Corporation.

The BBC Divisional Committee is seeking the views of Branches on the paper, prepared by Committee Chair Mark Scrimshaw.

Branches should send feedback to Diane Lockwood at BECTU Head Office before the next meeting of the Divisional Committee on 14 March 2007.

Going forward in the BBC a BECTU strategy for our members in our industry

Broadcasting is at a crossroads.

Other crossroads we have negotiated in the past the start of television, second then third then fourth terrestrial channels, colour provide us with a glimpse of what the new environment of multi-channel and satellite broadcasting, high def, the internet, mobile phone technology and lightweight recording equipment might bring.

For broadcasting unions this holds considerable threats, but also offers massive opportunities if we position ourselves properly.

BECTU BBC Division has to decide how it will prepare itself to face, on behalf of our members, a coming decade of unparalleled technological innovations, and demands from the employer for ever more flexible ways of working and amounts of multi-skilling across all job categories.

In essence, will we look on it as a period in which we can consolidate, grow, and forge new job and career opportunities for members; or in which we are reactive and oppositional, and fight a series of rearguard actions against change.

All the time remembering that in the long run it's our members who will have to operate the technology and make it work.

Recent experience, especially in the field of multi-skilling negotiations, have caught us somewhat flat-footed: in the case of PDP in English Regions very much so, and our officers were left to try and negotiate the best deal they could while members and branches argued about the very nature of the concept, and the BBC made hay of our confusion.

More recently we have begun to learn from the past and negotiate much earlier in the process:

  • Across English Regions, LocalTV is showing that with an agreed and discussed policy of clear welcoming of the principle and the jobs it offers, allied with a weather eye to the BBC's propensity for offering an inch and taking a mile our negotiators can be much more proactive in discussions with the BBC;
  • The talks over the Creative Desktop in F&L have prevented the silliest excesses of management while negotiating clear and beneficial ways of working with new gear and protecting technical craft skills at the same time;
  • The pilots for the XDA recording machine at Radio Lincoln and the one-person uPod sat truck at Norwich/Cambridge have both been exemplified by members' enthusiasm for the new with their concerns about possible effects on terms & conditions.

In some cases, unsuccessful talks will lead to disputes this is absolutely not a prescription for negotiating settlements at any cost but we should always be in the position of entering any dispute having weighed all the options and being able to offer clear alternatives.

Such involvement in talks can be used to increase our bargaining power, knowing where we want to end up, and becoming active participants in the project (critical ones when necessary) rather than automatically being opponents.

Defence of the current state of broadcasting is not an option any more than thinking we could defend film against tape; fear of the unknown is not a policy.

Similar criteria will apply to new departments set up as a result of Out of London moves; and to developments within the digital agenda where our previous experiences will have minimal application to jobs and functions we cannot even begin to imagine right now.

I would therefore suggest that we need a Strategy Discussion in which representatives of all the sub-divisions and job categories can hammer out where we believe our division should be going, and how we're going to get there and answer the questions we will continually be asked in the coming years:

  • What should our future relationship be with the BBC?
  • Should we do decide to become active participants with a critical faculty and the technical expertise to back up our positions, and if so what problems does that pose? And are those problems different from division to division, or do we press for a corporate BBC agreement?
  • What do we think are the key issues facing us in the coming years, and what are we doing to prepare our members, branch reps and lay officials to represent us in debate and discussions on these issues?
  • And to what extent if any should we be initiating discussion with the BBC on these issues within the context of out clear policy decisions?
  • How should we respond to technological and editorial change are we reactive, waiting for the BBC's proposals and then criticising or proactive and positive?
  • How do we get the best deal for our members do we get involved as early as possible in the process, using our members' knowledge and experience to guide and influence decisions rather than expecting them to pick up the pieces after another disastrous management decision?
  • Is our structure the right one to deliver the results we expect if not, what needs to be changed?
  • If so, are our branches and representatives in the right place to help them deliver, and if we want more involvement in early stages of discussions do our reps have the time and training to achieve this?
  • What if any other skills do we need to start developing through training to help branches and lay officials deliver our goals?

These are the questions I believe we need to start asking ourselves as a matter of some urgency. Whatever strategy the BBC starts to devise after the License Fee settlement and Charter Renewal are decided later this year, we have to be prepared to engage fully, confidently, positively and aggressively.

We should not want to stop progress but we should subject it to real scrutiny. The BBC needs to be more committed to dialogue, and in particular to giving time off to make that happen. We have to make sure that we engage properly. At some point they will need to admit that it is better to negotiate than play games.

To this end I do not believe such a far-reaching debate can happen within our normal structure.

I would suggest that initially we have a discussion at NJC level, then take a position paper to Division, and when we have agreement there, ask the Lay Officials and the union's officers (including training) to formulate and structure a Strategy Session to incorporate as many reps as possible from across all BBC branches. This session (and it may take more than one, and be conducted over a period of time it will be better to get it right than get it fast) should be rigorously structured around the topics/issues agreed in earlier discussions.

I look forward to your comments on this paper, and your involvement in the discussion.

Mark Scrimshaw
Chair BBC Division
22 January 2007