BBC bosses to be questioned by MPs over proposed cuts to local radio

MP Julian Knight said the plans ‘have provoked genuine disquiet in communities up and down the country’.
MP Julian Knight said the plans ‘have provoked genuine disquiet in communities up and down the country’.

BBC directors will be questioned by MPs over proposed cuts to local radio and the impact this could have on listeners.

Rhodri Talfan Davies, director of BBC Nations, and Jason Horton, director of BBC England, will face questions after the corporation said it plans for stations to share more content and broadcast less programming unique to their area.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee will also examine the BBC’s wider strategy for delivering services locally for licence fee payers.

Plans confirmed by the broadcaster last week included the loss of 48 jobs across local staffing in England, amounting to a total reduction of 2%.

The plans will see programming restricted to weekdays before 2pm and the BBC produce 18 afternoon programmes across England that will be shared between its 39 stations.

Ten local programmes will then be shared between 6-10pm on weekdays, across the day on Saturday and on Sunday mornings, serving areas broadly mirroring the existing local TV areas.

The proposals come as part of the BBC’s new strategy, announced in May, to create a “modern, digital-led” broadcaster.

Conservative MP Julian Knight, who is chairman of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said the plans for cuts “have provoked genuine disquiet in communities up and down the country, where BBC local radio stations play a key role in providing local information that is increasingly unavailable elsewhere”.

He added the public service broadcaster must always look at “offering a distinct service”.

BBC bosses will also be asked about the “implications of moving towards a more regional model and concentrating on digital services,” Mr Knight said.

He also told the BBC: “Any changes must be in the best interests of listeners and licence payers.”

It comes as culture minister Julia Lopez said the Government is “disappointed” with the BBC’s plans to make “extensive” cuts to local radio.

Three Labour MPs from Hull – Dame Diana Johnson, Karl Turner and Emma Hardy – also urged Tim Davie in a letter to “rethink” the proposed cuts, describing local radio as a “major reason” the broadcaster is “the envy of the world”.

BBC Radio Humberside journalist Andy Comfort also criticised the move, writing on Twitter that staff were “stunned and upset”.

In September, the BBC announced that 382 jobs at the World Service will be cut as part of plans to move to a digital-led service.

Regional TV news programmes in Oxford and Cambridge are also among the services being scrapped – merging with the BBC’s Southampton and Norwich operations.

It will also move staff out of Wogan House, close to its Broadcasting House in London, and Bridge House in MediaCity, Salford in an effort to reduce costs.

The BBC needs to save a further £285 million in response to the announcement in January that the licence fee will be frozen for the next two years.

The corporation has delivered more than £1 billion of savings in the five years to 2021/22.

BBC Stock
BBC Wogan House in London (Ian West/PA)

Mr Davies previously said: “These proposals aim to maintain the distinctiveness of our local services while allowing the BBC to adapt with our audiences and ensure we remain relevant.

“Taken together they will ensure our network of local services, across TV, radio, online and Sounds, offer more value for audiences.

“BBC local radio remains an essential service for millions of listeners, the very best local radio network in the world, but it’s also essential we make difficult choices that will enable us to reach out to many people that increasingly rely on their mobiles for local content.”

The DCMS Committee’s session will run on December 1.