The reign of outgoing ITV chief executive Charles Allen was today blasted by broadcast union Bectu as a painful period in which around 200 West Midlands jobs were axed.

National official Nigel Mason - whose brief includes ITV Central - called on the business to invest in people and programming.

It was revealed yesterday that under-pressure Mr Allen, who earned £1.85 million last year, was stepping down after two-and-a-half years at the helm of the commercial broadcaster.

He had come under pressure from low viewing figures and declining advertising revenues at the company's flagship channel ITV1.

Shareholders had also been concerned he had been slow to respond to new media and the threats and opportunities presented by it.

But while some industry experts criticised the boss for failing to ensure ITV produced better quality programmes, others suggested Mr Allen could hardly be blamed for the broadcaster's failings in an increasingly competitive and fast-changing world.

Mr Mason, however, did not agree. He said Mr Allen had presided over a national regime which saw regional programming cut for the Central West area from three hours to one-and-a-half hours a week and programme making was axed at the company's Nottingham studios.

Mr Mason said: "We are now in a situation where there are no network programmes created anywhere in the Midlands.

"And regional programming has been dramatically reduced and hundreds of jobs have been shed. If I was to use one word to describe the period it would be 'painful'.

"We still have some very good people in Birmingham and I'd urge whoever comes in to invest in people, and in programming in the regions, and to turn away from this gradual process of decline."

He said overall 400 Midlands jobs disappeared, roughly split 50-50 across the West and East regions.

ITV Central's managing director Ian Squires was unavailable to comment.

However an ITV spokesman nationally said: "Charles helped to create a single ITV out of regional franchises and a stronger company to the benefit of all the regions."

He said he was not in a position to comment on regional figures.

Mr Allen has been at Granada and lately ITV for 15 years - ten of which were as chairman or chief executive. He was a key player in the merger of Granada and Carlton to create a single ITV plc in early 2004.

ITV's board met on Monday to discuss the terms of departure for Mr Allen ahead of the company's half-year results to be posted today.

The broadcaster said Mr Allen would receive his contractual entitlement to one year's salary, as well as "augmentation" of his pension.

The statement said Mr Allen would remain at the company while head-hunters carried out the process of finding a replacement.

Finance director John Cresswell has been appointed interim chief executive from October 1 and will work alongside Mr Allen to ensure an "orderly transition".

Mr Allen said: "My focus now is to support John and the board through the transition process, following which I will move forward to the next chapter of my life and a new set of challenges."

ITV chairman Sir Peter Burt said Mr Allen had done an excellent job integrating the business after the merger, including in reducing costs and cutting the burden of regulation on ITV.

Sir Peter said: "The growth in the company's business and profits since the merger reflects that success. I have enjoyed working with Charles over the past two and half years and we all wish him the best in the future. We shall watch with great interest his future contribution to UK plc."

ITV has already said it expects to report a 4.6 per cent slide in advertising revenues today, with analysts forecasting a fall in first half operating profits from £200 million last year to between £175 million and £192 million.

In March, Mr Allen fended off takeover interest from a consortium of private equity firms which planned to replace him as chief executive with former BBC director-general Greg Dyke.

While his departure will trigger a race for one of the most high-profile jobs in UK media, it is unlikely to deter bidders for the firm.

Johnston Press chairman Roger Parry is among those believed to be interested in ITV and is said to have plans to split the broadcaster into two separate companies - one housing production and the other channels.