At the behest of Granada bosses, Lindsay Charlton is overseeing drastic job cuts at Meridian. Will it be the template for cuts across the ITV regions as many fear?
No one goes into television to become an axeman. But for many staff at ITV's Meridian franchise that is how its managing director, Lindsay Charlton, will be seen after he announced that the workforce is to be halved.Charlton informed staff last week that as many as 175 jobs will go from the current 365-strong workforce in a dramatic rationalisation, which is tied in with the company's move to new headquarters.Although Meridian's network factual department produces shows such as I Want That House for ITV's daytime network schedule, its main purpose is producing regional news. With network factual having been subsumed into Granada factual, however, the major challenge for Charlton is to make the cuts sound like a scheme to drag an outdated regional broadcaster into the 21st century, with multiskilled workers and the latest digital technology.But he now has to convince a group of angry politicians and unions, with the latter branding the decision a "massacre".The worrying thing for everyone else in the ITV regions is that it is widely assumed that the Meridian model will be a template for the rest of the country. Although Meridian is arguably the most unwieldy franchise, a legacy from United News & Media's less thrifty approach to its regional centres, many believe Charlton was given a brief to create a formula for downsizing, which will be replicated as part of Charles Allen's£55m plus savings across the country.Charlton admits that the decision has been a tough one. He said: "It was the saddest thing I have ever had to do in 24 years at ITV. Of course there's anger but the staff reacted with extraordinary dignity and restraint. I was made redundant myself from British Satellite Broadcasting. It's not an experience you forget and I don't take this lightly."According to colleagues, Charlton was moved across from his more prestigious role as managing director of LWT to Meridian precisely to take out costs.His predecessors there had been seen by Granada as failing to carry out the company's wishes to make enough cuts - so Charlton was brought in.About 60 jobs have been taken out at the broadcaster over the two years before last week's announcement. One insider says: "He was given a brief to bring it into the Granada fold and rationalise. Meridian was living in cloud-cuckoo land and Allen wanted Lindsay to go there and sort it out."Nevertheless, the scale of the cuts has surprised everybody and rumours abound that Granada would actually like to see the broadcaster further scaled down to just 100 employees. Many believe Charlton will be given a pat on the back and a promotion for wielding the hatchet at Meridian, claiming that Charlton is "fiercely ambitious" and will be hoping for some recompense for making himself the public face of redundancies. One ITV executive suggested there was a "nudge-nudge wink-wink" deal when Charlton was told he was moving to Meridian in April last year. One idea is that he could take a senior job within the ITV News division, which will control the regions under Clive Jones, possibly with a view to rolling out the restructuring template across the rest of England.One ITV insider says: "I think Lindsay would have been a bit naive to take that job if he didn't think that Granada would not look to downsize it. But if he takes it on the chin, he will be looking for some advancement out of it."There were suggestions from Granada that Charlton was given a large degree of autonomy to decide the level of cuts to be made at the broadcaster as a result of the relocation. But sources at Meridian say that the really important decisions on Meridian's future have happened at some altitude above Charlton's head - namely in Charles Allen's office.Charlton, who has been described as using "charm like a weapon", should deal with the public face of the decision well, as one source says: "He is a former presenter and a front man with a high degree of self-confidence." One former colleague added: "No matter how under-appreciated he is by the Great British public he won't mind." Another adds: "He won't hide in his office."One Granada insider who is seething and anxious about the impact on the regions that the merger looks to be having, says: "The role of regional MDs is to convince local MPs about how passionate Granada is about the regions - they don't have any power and a decision like this is way beyond Lindsay's pay grade."But Charlton, who set up LNN's factual unit in 1996 after being a presenter there, defends the changes as vital to ensure that ITV can keep competing with the BBC and says: "It is about putting our investment in talent and programmes, not ageing bricks and mortar."He adds: "We didn't come in one day as a management team and say, we're bored let's tear up the company and destroy its regional base. We wouldn't have persuaded Granada to spend a single pound on the licence, let alone the equivalent of£6m, if it hadn't been convinced the plan would equip Meridian to play its proper part in a single ITV." But for those left at ITV's regional production bases the shock waves are still reverberating. Profile by Paul Revoir.