Is this really about the deficit?

Time and again BBC management come back to the size of the pension deficit as the issue that has to be addressed. But read between the lines and you can see that in reality getting rid of the deficit is not Mark Thompson’s main priority. His real priority is reducing the BBC’s long term commitment to the pension fund, and that means drastically reducing the benefits available to members. If the main priority was getting rid of the deficit then the BBC would be searching for ways to pay down the deficit, when in fact it is refusing to consider them. There are plenty of options: Worldwide’s profits could be used – £150 million a year for 10 years would do the trick. Or extend the repayment period to 15 years and you don’t even have to use all of WW’s profits. Similary, the BBC’s property assets like TVC could be declared as assets of the pension fund as the unions have suggested. Neither of these are pain free options, but they are possible. The fact that the BBC refuses to even discuss them makes it clear that they actually don’t want to pay off the deficit if the price of doing so is continuing to have to fund the pension scheme. Look also at the language used in Lucy Adams’ email (quoted in a previous blog); it’s clear that their determination is to deliberately make the benefits available on the existing pensions scheme so poor that most people leave the scheme (leaving only those who are about to retire).

To win this argument we have to hold the BBC to simple targets. They say they want to reduce the deficit – here’s our proposals for doing just that. At the same time we need to try and buy time – there is absolutely no requirement on the BBC to come up with proposals to plug the deficit until well into 2011. And finally, the BBC needs to be frightened of the possibility of legal action to enforce the 43rd deed (see earlier post). If these three arguments can be heard frequently enough then I think BBC management will be forced onto the back foot.

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