Am I being unrealistic?

BBC management has been quite successful in encouraging the idea that our pension rights are now unrealistic. According to this reading of the world, defined benefit (ie final salary and career average) pension schemes are an anachronism dating from a different era when money grew on trees, and the licence fee rose every year at least in line with inflation. They point to all the other pension schemes that have deficits, and to the attack on state pensions, and suggest that we’re trying to resist the inevitable. There’s a further, rather insulting insinuation that in defending our pension rights we are representing the “producer interest” against the interests of the licence fee payer – ie the consumer.

This is all nonsense.

First, as I and others have repeatedly shown, the BBC’s case (namely that the pensions deficit and future outlook are so bad that the only way the BBC can responsibly act is to abandon the BBC’s pension promise) does not stand up. The deficit can be relatively easily covered (by assigning non licence fee assets to the fund). And future liabilities are nowhere near as bad as the BBC makes out.

Second, whilst the BBC highlights some of the worst practices in the private sector to justify its own appalling behaviour, there are other cases such as ITV where a sensible, negotiated agreement preserved most of the benefits for members. It’s really about whether management want to preserve their existing benefits, or whether they see short term deficits as an opportunity to cut labour costs. I’m not arguing that there shouldn’t be any changes to the pension scheme, simply that the BBC abide by its agreements and negotiate those changes with the trustees

Third, the BBC’s scheme has nothing to do with public sector pensions. The latter are paid for out of general taxation, whereas the BBC’s scheme is financed by investments in a pension fund. There is no point of comparison between these two types of pension.

Finally, I find it insulting that anyone should suggest that insisting the BBC be held to promises it has made (encapsulated in the pension scheme rules) somehow means that I put my own interests above the licence fee payer. I have spent my career delivering value for money for the licence fee payer. I have delivered tapes on my bicycle in order to cut despatch rider costs. I have outsourced interview transcription to India to halve the costs of transcripts. Until very recently I didn’t even realise I was able to claim cycle mileage for work journeys. Contrast that with a director general who has made expenses claims for 70p parking meters and £1.85 to buy newspapers.

There is no contradiction between asking the BBC to honour the terms of my employment, and my dedication to ensuring value for money for the licence fee payer.


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