Kevin Bakhurst aims to ‘minimise uncertainty’ as job cuts among plans for RTE

Kevin Bakhurst aims to ‘minimise uncertainty’ as job cuts among plans for RTE

RTE director general Kevin Bakhurst has said he wants to “minimise uncertainty” for staff as redundancies are among the proposed cost-cutting plans for the broadcaster.

The Government has agreed to provide 56 million euros in additional funding to help RTE cover funding shortfalls this year and next year after the organisation published plans to reduce its workforce.

The plan involves cutting staff by 400 people by 2028, but Mr Bakhurst said that this includes 150 staff due to retire over that period.

Mr Bakhurst has also pledged that no-one at RTE will earn more than the director general’s salary of 250,000 euro a year, and said that “unfortunately” 10 million euro in planned cuts next year will impact on TV and radio content.

Ministers signed off on the interim funding package, subject to certain conditions, at cabinet on Tuesday.

The move was confirmed as Mr Bakhurst emphasised to staff that he wants to minimise uncertainty for them.

“There is always a degree of uncertainty when there is change, but I’m trying to minimise uncertainty,” he told media at RTE after a staff meeting.

“I have explained how the job losses will work over time, how the process will be transparent and fair, how it will be voluntary, but change does bring uncertainty.

“I will try and give staff the reassurance and the engagement they need to minimise that uncertainty and make sure they can engage in this process properly.”

The voluntary redundancy scheme, estimated to cost 40 million euros, would reduce headcount by 20% of the current staffing level.

“2024 will be a challenging year and one in which we will have to manage our cost base carefully. Hard choices will be made,” Mr Bakhurst states in the report.

The hole in the outlet’s finances has deepened in recent months due to a sharp fall-off in TV licence revenue collected following a summer of controversies at the public service broadcaster.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed an additional funding package had been agreed at a press conference in Dublin on Tuesday.

“The strategic plan is an RTE plan, written by RTE management and their board, it is not one that requires Government approval,” he said. “It is a plan by RTE for RTE.”

Prime Minister of France visit to Ireland
Leo Varadkar stressed that it was not the Government making the decisions, but RTE themselves (Norma Burke/PA)

The strategic reform plan, A new direction for RTE, published on Tuesday, will see TV channels RTE One +1 and RTE2 +1 and digital radio stations RTE Radio 1 Extra, RTE 2XM, RTE Pulse and RTEjr Radio axed.

The plan prioritises upgrading technology, live and online content, and the expansion of its production centre in Cork while reducing one in Dublin.

RTE staff cuts
Seamus Dooley, Irish secretary at the National Union of Journalists (Liam McBurney/PA)

There will also be more reliance on the independent productions as it aims to increase its “overall investment by 50%”.

“We will continue to provide outreach events and multi-genre content, bringing a varied mix of live action and animated video and audio in both English and Irish, created primarily by Ireland’s independent production sector,” it said about reaching younger audiences.

It also said it would hire a disinformation correspondent, and a new factchecking mark and verification service, and said it would invest in the RTE Player, a new audio app, and “an enhanced and broader” RTE news app.

The report states that it had considered relocating the broadcaster’s headquarters off the current Donnybrook site, but “at this stage it does not appear to be economically viable”.

Speaking at RTE’s headquarters, Mr Bakhurst insisted the broadcaster’s restructuring plan is possible if the future of how the broadcaster is funded is clarified.

“That’s the basis for this plan,” he said.

He said that that a valuation of a part of the site indicated it was worth 100 million euro, and that there was “not a pot of gold here”, nor “an economic reason to move off this site”.

On the proposed redundancies, he said: “This is obviously an area of concern that I was asked about a number of times: what I said was there are 150 people due to retire over this period, so that’s a starting point.

“The other thing that is really important is that rest of the job losses will be over a period of four to five years, they’re not in the first year, or the second year so we have a period of time, and they need to fit in with the development of the organisation – so as we commission more content from independents, or as we invest in digital products and need to change our portfolio, the change in the jobs need to match that, so there will be a fair and proper process around it and will be voluntary as I underlined today.”

Asked how many RTE staff earn more than him, the director-general indicated “not many”.

“A handful of people, we’re publishing the top 10 salaries shortly, but it’s not that many who actually earn more than the director-general.

“We need to set the ceiling somewhere and that’s the ceiling we chose to impose,” he said.

“We can’t undo contracts that are already in place but this is for future contracts and future employees.”

RTE pay revelations
RTE director general Kevin Bakhurst (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Government had held off making a decision on interim funding pending the delivery of the strategic reform plan.

RTE is facing a loss of between 10-12 million euros this year and, with a shortfall in TV licence revenue projected at 61 million euros across this year and next, Mr Bakhurst had warned that the organisation would run out of cash if further state funding was not made available.

RTE was plunged into crisis in June when the broadcaster revealed it had not correctly declared fees to its then-highest-paid earner, Ryan Tubridy.

RTE pay revelations
RTE revealed it had not correctly declared fees paid to presenter Ryan Tubridy (Niall Carson/PA)

The scandal widened as a series of other financial and governance issues emerged.

Earlier this year, prior to the emergence of controversies, RTE submitted a request for 34.5 million euros in additional interim funding.

The Government has already allocated 16 million in extra funding for this year in line with recommendations from the state’s financial advice body, NewERA.

However, since the initial request for additional funding, RTE’s revenues have taken a further major hit, with the broadcaster experiencing multimillion-euro losses due to a fall in TV licence payments in the wake of the controversies.

NewERA had recommended an additional 40 million euros in relation to the shortfall of TV licences next year.

The Government has also asked RTE to make 21 million euros of efficiencies to make up the gap created by the shortfall of 61 million euros in licence fee revenue.

The 56 million euros agreed by Cabinet covers the 40 million euros shortfall for 2024 and the additional funding required by the broadcaster this year.

RTE staff cuts
Emma O’Kelly, RTE’s education correspondent and chair of the National Union of Journalists – Dublin Broadcasting Branch (Liam McBurney/PA)

RTE education correspondent Emma O’Kelly, who is also chair of the chair of NUJ’s Dublin broadcasting branch, compared the proposed cuts for RTE to the shark in Jaws.

“Before this, we had kind of an eerie silence around RTE, but it was kind of like the silence in Jaws, where you know the shark is under the boat,” she said, speaking to media ahead of a union meeting with Mr Bakhurst at RTE’s campus in Dublin.

“Today, we have had a glimpse of the shark, or we’re getting a glimpse, and that’s kind of the feeling. There’s a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety.”