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RTÉ's director general Kevin Backhurst addressing reporters on the broadcaster's Donnybrook campus in Dublin this evening. Mairead Maguire/The Journal
strategic vision

'No one will earn more than the DG': Bakhurst outlines voluntary redundancies and salary caps at RTÉ

Staff were briefed on the plans at a meeting with RTÉ management this afternoon.

NO ONE AT RTÉ will be paid more than the Director General under a maximum pay cap set as part of a new cost-cutting plan announced today.

Kevin Bakhurst briefed staff this afternoon about the national broadcaster’s new strategic vision, which sets out the cost of voluntary redundancy scheme at an estimated €40 million.  

The plan, called “A new direction for RTÉ”, outlines how RTÉ will become “a more streamlined, modern and simpler organisation, with fewer employees, reduced overheads and updated technology”. 

It’s understood that Bakhurst told staff at the meeting this afternoon: “No one will earn more than the director general. That is a commitment we are going to make.”

It’s also understood that staff were told that selling Donnybrook is not being considered, and that instead RTÉ management plans to remain at the site, but to “shrink back” its current facilities, and invest in them to modernise them.

The plan, published this afternoon, states that the workforce at the broadcaster will be cut by 20% – or 400 people – over the next five years. 

The broadcaster said it will deliver on the maximum pay cap as contracts expire and as new staff members are hired, adding that it will also continue to reduce the pay of its highest paid presenters.

An “initial and limited” voluntary exit programme will be run to cut 40 positions. This will be funded by the sale of land on the Donnybrook campus in 2017.

Staff reductions will take place through a combination of normal attrition and retirements and a voluntary exit scheme, which will aim to particularly reduce the number of staff paid over €100,000.

However, targeted recruitment will continue at the broadcaster “to ensure we have the additional skills required for a digitally transformed RTÉ”. 

Bakhurst assured staff that the 400 job losses will be fairly dispersed across different areas of the organisation, and will not fall unfairly on production staff, it is understood.

It’s understood he also reassured staff that that there is no plan to close entire departments in RTÉ, and said the plan is to let people take redundancy gradually.

A review of the system of allowances and expenses will take places, with changes to be introduced next year. 

Spending cuts

There will be a minimum of €10 million cuts in spending cuts in 2024 “to help close this public funding gap” caused by the fall-off in license fee payments.

These cuts will include cuts to content, which will be confirmed in the coming weeks, an ongoing pause on discretionary spend and a postponement of a range of capital and strategic projects.

The plan states that there RTÉ will operate two production centres, expanding in Cork and reducing in Dublin, with a “renewed commitment” to Limerick and Galway.

It’s understood that Bakhurst told staff that investing in refurbishing its Cork studios and producing more content from Cork will be a matter of priority.

As more content, including news content, is made outside of Dublin in Cork, Limerick and Galway, it’s understood that some staff will be given the option to transfer to those locations. 

The broadcaster also plans to invest “to deliver better connections with audiences on RTÉ Player”, a new audio app and an expanded RTÉ News app that will personalise and showcase “our high quality and impactful content”.

It states that it will prioritise delivery of live and on-demand content through its digital products, reducing the cost of traditional broadcast distribution.

As part of this measure, RTÉ One +1 and RTÉ2 +1 will close. 

RTÉ Radio 1 Extra, RTÉ 2XM, RTÉ Pulse and RTÉjr will also close next year, with the broadcaster set to offer on-demand playlists and podcasts through its new app instead.

There are no plans to sell off 2fm in the new RTÉ strategy, despite speculation in the lead up to its publication.

The broadcaster will also “work harder” with the independent production sector and diversify outside of Dublin.

The plan clarifies that RTÉ will not be investing half of its public funding spend in independent sector productions, as has been reported in the media, but that it will be increasing its spend in this sector by 50%, so it will rise from roughly  €50 million to  € 75 million. 

It also plans to further invest in upgrading technology, including building on hybrid and cloud working, introducing more process automation and the use of trustworthy AI tools.

“We will also advance our production capabilities by completing the upgrade to HD, expanding visual radio facilities, developing virtual production capabilities, and extending adoption of cloud-based content management and editing tools,” the plan states. 

In a statement accompanying the plan, Kevin Bakhurst said 2024 “will be a challenging year and one in which we will have to manage our cost base carefully”.

Hard choices will be made.

“My hope, however, is that we will enter 2025 armed with a robust strategy that makes the best use of the monies available to fund our national media service, monies we will invest as wisely and strategically as possible to improve the invaluable contribution of public service media to life in Ireland.”

Reaction

It is understood that Kevin Bakhurst’s Q and A session with staff this afternoon ended with a round of applause. 

While outlining cost cutting measures that will be taken over the next five years, Bakhurst was also keen to emphasise that this new strategy is about smart investment, and making RTÉ a slightly smaller, but better organisation. 

“It will still be a substantial organisation,” he assured staff. He also spoke about modernising its technology, and renovating key sites, like RTÉ’s studios in Cork, rather than selling them off. He was clear that these actions are dependent on the Government coming through with the level of public funding it is promising. 

While staff did voice concerns about how previous voluntary exit schemes operated, and voiced fears that the process will be slow and opaque, Bakhurst placated those concerns by saying that he is aware of the problems the organisation has had with redundancy in the past. 

He emphasised that it is not his ambition to push staff out the door who are key to current content production in RTÉ.

When quizzed on when the salary cap for top earners at RTÉ will come into effect, Bakhurst said that as soon as the contracts for current high earners expire, they will ne renegotiated in line with the salary cap. 

Some staff members lamented the amount of content RTÉ is commissioning from independent producers – which will only increase under the new strategy – but others voiced support for the plan, and insisted that RTÉ editors work closely with production companies that are producing shows for the broadcaster. 

The organisation Screen Producers Ireland has welcomed RTÉ’s plans to spend more in the independent sector. 

SPI CEO Susan Kirby said that there now needs to be a reform of the license fee collection system to ensure RTÉ can access the level of public funding it needs to carry out this new strategy. 

” As welcome as the announcement is today, it shows again the need for urgent and significant work on reforming the TV Licence Fee to a system that is future-proof and fit for purpose.

“The outcome of this process that nobody desires is that RTÉ must continuously go to the Government for additional funding because of a broken collection system. For RTÉ to have true independence, they need financial independence and certainty. Action on Licence Fee reform is the next step on this journey,” she said. 

€56 million bailout

The plans come as the Government announced that it had approved interim funding of €56 million for the broadcaster for this year and next year, subject to conditions.

The bailout includes €16 million already approved by the Government in this year’s budget.

The first installment of the remaining €40 million will be paid in the first quarter of next year after the Expert Advisory Committees reports, set up by the Government, are published.

A second instalment will be made in the second half of the year “providing satisfactory progress is being made by RTÉ on governance and reforms”.

In a statement, the Minister for Media Catherine Martin said the decision on funding “is necessary to ensure in the short term the continued operations of RTÉ”.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) welcomed the announcement of interim funding. 

Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish secretary, said the announcement was “a welcome reprieve” but added the government needs to expedite proposals for long term funding of public service broadcasting in Ireland.  

“We are gravely concerned at the scale of the proposed redundancies and will require detailed information on how it is proposed to maintain core services and the impact on staff of such drastic proposals,” he said.

“Against the backdrop of an investigation into the last Voluntary Redundancy Programme, staff will be very sceptical about a new programme. Staff want to see evidence of a genuine, sustainable long term plan based on clearly defined objectives.”

Dooley said it is “vital” that the government provides clarity on long-term funding for public service broadcasting.

“To date there has not been a sense of urgency and RTÉ workers are now being asked to pay the price for poor corporate governance and lack of political direction.”

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland this morning, RTÉ Trade Union Group secretary Cearbhall Ó Síocháin said he did not believe that previous rounds of voluntary redundancy schemes had reached their targets.

“Any redundancies will have to be voluntary and on past experience. 400 feels like a tall order. You’re talking 100 jobs a year on average over the course of this plan,” he said. 

“We’ve already experienced a certain level of staff shortages. RTÉ is already stretched in many areas of the organisation and redundancies will impact on those who remain, carrying an extra burden, filling in the gaps, plugging the holes.”

Ó Síocháin said the public, particularly minorities, will be impacted by cuts to services and that the privatisation of services would “not be seen as a good thing for a public broadcaster”.

“The implications here are staff are picking up the tab for poor governance and bad management by those who’ve walked away on big money.”

He also said that the Government “have a role to play in this”.

“Government have a responsibility to fund a national public service broadcaster, all the signalling from politicians is that it is very important.”

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