RTÉ’s cost savings update won’t be music to everybody’s ears

‘Mixed emotions’ on National Symphony Orchestra’s move may resurface with future cuts

Transfer of the National Symphony Orchestra to the NCH was recommended by an RTÉ-commissioned report four years ago. File photograph: The Irish Times

Transfer of the National Symphony Orchestra to the NCH was recommended by an RTÉ-commissioned report four years ago. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

Monday marks both a subdued moment for RTÉ’s public service credentials and a quietly significant one for its stop-start cost-cutting efforts. On January 24th, it will offload the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) to the National Concert Hall (NCH), reducing its annual cost base by about €8 million. Thank you for the music, and goodbye.

As the date was confirmed, director-general Dee Forbes described the occasion as one of “mixed emotions for us in RTÉ”, with the sorrow of parting with friends and colleagues tempered by delight that the NSO and choirs “will now be on a firm financial footing within the NCH”.

It was, all told, a busy week for RTÉ management, with the NSO transfer update bridging a short gap between the launch of its Six Nations coverage (alongside broadcast rights partner Virgin Media Television) at the Aviva Stadium and a virtual appearance of symphonic-length before the Public Accounts Committee.

There, amid wide-ranging and at times frenetic lines of questioning from committee members, up popped the subject of how RTÉ is faring on its late-2019 target to save €60 million over three years.

As ever, a completely up-to-date picture on its finances remained elusive, with TDs told that the 2021 accounts were not yet finalised. But Richard Collins, who was appointed RTÉ chief financial officer just in time for the pandemic, did hint at some turbulence ahead on the cost-savings score. With one year to go before the end of the three-year period, there is “a risk” that the €60 million target will not be met, he told the committee.

‘Difficult to achieve’

“The world is changing continuously, there are a lot of risks out there. Inflation is coming at us now,” he said. “I think we were on track with it [but] I think it is going to be difficult to achieve it.”

This won’t have been music to everybody’s ears, though RTÉ’s track record of achieving cost savings is still probably better than successive governments’ record of delivering on the half-promised public media funding reforms that would lessen the need to make cuts in the first place.

The NSO’s transfer to the NCH was proposed by the 2018 Boaden review, which was much welcomed by Montrose – despite its detailed documenting of RTÉ’s rather dismal treatment of its orchestras – because it recommended precisely the outcome management wanted.

With the Government silent on the Future of Media Commission’s conclusions on its public funding, perhaps it will fall to RTÉ to arrange for further remit-shaving, cost-slashing reviews soon.

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