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BBC Write to MU General Secretary Confirming Progress on Performing Group Sustainable Future

The BBC have written to the MU with updates on how they plan to provide a sustainable future for their performing groups, and we remain in meaningful discussion with them following months of uncertainty for our members.

Published: 27 June 2023 | 2:22 PM Updated: 27 June 2023 | 3:20 PM
BBC Portland Place in the day time, with some people walking in and out of the building
“However dreadful this period has been it has at least now put a spotlight on the value of the six BBC performing groups and the excellence of what they do.” Photo credit: Shutterstock

We are pleased to confirm that the BBC and Musicians’ Union have made progress in a range of areas in recent months, in seeking to deliver on the objectives of the BBC’s classical review of 2022 and provide a sustainable future for the BBC’s performing groups. We remain engaged in meaningful discussion as we work through some complex areas, and therefore expect our consultation to continue for the rest of 2023.

The BBC have written to the General Secretary of the MU today with a detailed update on their current progress, and we have included the letter at the end of this story. We hope this will allow the MU and its members some breathing space in terms of continuing constructive discussions for the BBC Performing groups and with sufficient time to do so.

We know how dreadfully unsettling and worrying the last four months have been for all our members employed by the BBC. We trust they know the MU is fighting their corner in the most robust manner and with the clear goal of securing the future of the six performing groups for future decades.

Demonstrating a real commitment to collaborating with us and listening to our members

MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl welcomed the news and the expression of commitment, whilst adding that much more work remains ahead:

“We are pleased to be making progress with the BBC on a range of important issues for the Performing Groups. These are not issues that can be resolved quickly, which is why we are giving ourselves the rest of this year at least to work through them together. The fact remains that the BBC intends to save money, as a result of the license fee shortfall, and this is a big challenge as talks continue.

“However, they have demonstrated a real commitment to collaborating with us and listening to our members as we look at raising income, exploring new partnership opportunities, and additional use of the Groups within the BBC and beyond.

“In the shorter term, we are delighted that there is hope of a secure home (finally!) for the Concert Orchestra in the London area and that talks related to the BBC Singers' future are progressing. We look forward to being consulted as those plans develop.”

Pohl also referenced how the BBC’s approach to creating partnerships across regions with the BBC Concert Orchestra can act as a model for crafting stable futures for cultural workforces:

The BBC Concert Orchestra’s Nottingham partnership announcement demonstrates that it's not necessary to move a company wholesale in order to deliver more work away from London. The partnership model is a good one, delivering stability and mutual benefit as well as preserving the existing workforce.”

Putting the value of the BBC performing groups into the spotlight

Jo Laverty, MU National Organiser Orchestras, also welcomed the update, pointing out how the value of the BBC’s performing groups has been highlighted:

“The MU is pleased that the BBC has seriously listened to our concerns. We are meeting with Senior BBC executives on a regular basis and are reassured that the BBC is giving these matters their highest level of attention and concern.

“We must recognise that these last four months have been deeply destabilising and worrying for our members. However dreadful this period has been it has at least now put a spotlight on the value of the six BBC performing groups and the excellence of what they do. Even the wider BBC are waking up to the possibilities that they have at their fingertips, in these amazing full-time employed performing groups.”

BBC letter the MU General Secretary

The BBC’s letter to the MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl is detailed as follows:

Dear Naomi,

Over the last three months there has been significant collaboration and progress, in terms of discussing ways forward for our teams and your members that can deliver on the objectives of the BBC’s classical review of 2022 and provide a sustainable future for our performing groups.

Following our most recent consultation meeting, we thought it might be helpful to provide you and your representatives with some updates, and clarity on the work we have ahead of us. We will also be sharing these updates with our teams, as whilst there is a level of ongoing uncertainty for those affected, we want to provide reassurance that discussions are productive, and all aspects are being considered carefully.

BBC Singers

We can confirm that the BBC Singers should continue to make bookings and plans for the future, including celebrating their centenary in 2024. We are in confidential discussions with prospective partners, so are unable to share more detail yet, but we can confirm that the BBC has entered those talks on the basis that any viable arrangement would need to provide on-going and full-time salaried employment for the BBC Singers. We are committed to sharing any proposals with the unions and the BBC Singers’ as soon as these discussions reach an appropriate stage.

BBC Concert Orchestra

The BBC Concert Orchestra will be London-based and will continue to perform and rehearse in venues in London, across the UK and – as we will be announcing today – as part of a new long-term partnership in Nottingham. This approach helps us to secure a creatively and financially sustainable future for the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Timescales and next steps for consultation

During our discussions to date, we have spoken about four key areas which we have jointly agreed are the right focus areas when considering the future of the BBC performing groups. The four areas are:

1.    Orchestral Tax Relief: we understand you are supportive of the BBC pursuing the possibility of claiming this relief, recognising it is an exercise which will take several months to complete.

2.    Increasing Income: we are considering a range of proposals with third parties and across the BBC’s wider output and services, looking at optimising the use of the performing groups within the BBC.

3.    Digital: ensuring the performing groups have a coherent digital presence, maximising profile and discoverability.

4. Reviewing Terms and Conditions: All parties will consider terms, conditions and working practices in the light of unlocking opportunities, to support education and increased third party work. They will also ensure terms and conditions are aligned with the BBC’s principles of fairness and transparency.

It is important for us to review the four areas carefully as we want a meaningful and sustainable outcome. To do so successfully, we agree that the consultation needs to continue for the rest of this calendar year, and any formal proposals for the orchestras from this process will not materialise until 2024 at the earliest.

We believe that taking the time to consider all aspects of the models for the performing groups should provide reassurance to all the teams that this is being considered carefully and allow all parties to concentrate on exploring the best way to deliver our objectives.

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