BBC urged to rethink proposed cuts to ‘vital' local radio services
Local government leaders have urged the director general of the BBC to “rethink” the corporation’s proposed cuts to its radio stations.
In a letter to Tim Davie on Wednesday, the 90 Labour leaders from England said they are “concerned” about the “potential impacts” on communities that value local radio as a “vital public service”.
The local leaders – including Mansfield mayor Andy Abrahams, Medway Labour and Cooperative group leader Vince Maple, and Stevenage leader Baroness Sharon Taylor – wrote that BBC local radio’s role played a “critical part” during the pandemic as they shared public health messages with residents.
The letter also cited local radio’s “consistently fair” approach to democratic scrutiny, its reporting on local elections and councils, the help it provides police in communicating to the public and “key matters” like the NHS and local sport.
“We are concerned at the potential impacts these proposals will have on the service to the residents and communities we represent who value this vital public service,” wrote the leaders, who also included mayor of Leicester Sir Peter Soulsby and Bristol mayor Marvin Rees.
They continued: “We absolutely appreciate that like all public services, the BBC has budget challenges, but we would strongly urge that the corporation rethinks the proposals to cut local radio output.”
The BBC plans for local radio stations to share more content and broadcast less programming unique to their areas.
Proposals confirmed by the broadcaster include the loss of 48 jobs across local staffing in England, amounting to a total reduction of 2%.
The plans will see local programming restricted to weekdays before 2pm and the BBC will produce 18 afternoon programmes across England that will be shared between its 39 stations.
Ten local programmes will then be shared between 6pm and 10pm on weekdays, all day on Saturday and on Sunday mornings, serving areas broadly mirroring 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, chairman of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, said the plans for cuts “have provoked genuine disquiet in communities up and down the country”.
BBC bosses will be questioned next month by the committee about the “implications of moving towards a more regional model and concentrating on digital services”, Mr Knight said.
The DCMS committee will also examine the BBC’s wider strategy for delivering services locally for licence fee 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 Mr Davie in a letter to “rethink” the proposed cuts, describing local radio as a “major reason” the broadcaster is “the envy of the world”.
In September, the BBC announced that 382 jobs at the World Service will be cut.
Regional TV news programmes in Oxford and Cambridge are also among the services being scrapped – merging with the BBC’s Southampton and Norwich operations.
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.
Rhodri Talfan Davies, BBC director of nations, 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.”
Mr Davies and Jason Horton, director of BBC England, will face questions from MPs during the DCMS Committee’s session on December 1.