BBC announces cost-cutting measures for English regional TV and radio
The BBC has announced a shake-up of regional TV news and local radio in England, leading to 450 job cuts.
Changes will see one instead of two presenters fronting 6.30pm regional TV news bulletins.
Inside Out, the regional current affairs magazine show made in 11 different regions, will be axed and replaced with a new investigative journalism programme from six hubs.
A “simplified schedule” introduced on local radio during the pandemic, with single instead of double presenters and a reduction in the number of shows, will become permanent.
The broadcaster said that BBC England – which currently has more than 3,000 staff – must save £25 million by April 2022.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said the cuts – which will affect presenters, journalists, technical and operation staff – “could have a serious impact” on the BBC’s “ability to represent all parts of the country”.
Helen Thomas, director of BBC England, said “difficult decisions” had to be made on local and regional services “created more than 50 years ago”.
She said: “We are in the age of the Facebook community group and the WhatsApp neighbourhood chat. We must adapt to better reflect how people live their lives, how they get their news and what content they want.
“We’re going to modernise our offer to audiences in England by making digital a central part of everything we do.”
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “These are huge cuts which will inevitably have an impact on the BBC’s ability to sustain the breadth and depth of news coverage throughout England which truly reflects the diversity of the nation.
“The Covid-19 crisis has shown more than ever the need for an effective public service broadcaster and for trusted, quality journalism in an era of disinformation and fake news.
“We cannot allow the BBC to sleepwalk into a death by a thousand cuts, which will inevitably see people switch-off because they aren’t getting the service they want.”
The BBC has already announced plans to cut around 450 jobs in BBC News, to take place at a later date.
And last month it said it was axing more than 150 roles in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The broadcaster has also launched a programme of voluntary redundancy as it attempts to make £125 million in savings this year – on top of the previous £800 million savings target – due to the pandemic.
Last month, Sir Lenny Henry and Stephen Fry were among the stars who signed a letter to the BBC urging the corporation not to cut regional current affairs programmes.
The BBC said that changes would put “digital storytelling at its core” and it will commission a broader range of TV programming reflecting “life across England especially in the North and Midlands”.
The changes mean weekly current affairs programmes on Inside Out will no longer be made in Plymouth, Southampton, Tunbridge Wells, Nottingham and Salford.
The regional editions of Politics England on Sunday mornings will return in the autumn but undergo a “creative review”.
Labour’s shadow minister for media Chris Matheson said “the root cause” of cuts “remains the Government’s decision to slash BBC funding”.
Conservative MP Julian Knight, who is chairman of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said: “Just two weeks ago BBC executive James Purnell told us that the broadcaster was strongly committed to local and regional journalism. This decision is a strange way of demonstrating that commitment.
“It is also at odds with what he told us about plans for the BBC to do more outside London and the south-east on local and regional services with journalism and political programmes singled out.
“As a public service broadcaster the corporation has a clear mandate to serve audiences in our regions and meet their expectations for a licence fee funded quality regional news service. Today’s announcement appears to put that expectation in some doubt.”
Head of union Bectu Philippa Childs said: “The additional liability of funding the over-75s licence fee and the challenges of collecting fees in a pandemic have cost the BBC £125 million on top of the savings that are already scheduled.
“The Government must take back responsibility for the cost of free licence fees for over-75s to ensure that it (the BBC) is able to continue to fulfil its role as the UK’s leading public service broadcaster.”