MPs have condemned a proposal to cut back the BBC’s local radio output, voicing concern about the effect it would have on journalists’ jobs and local democracy.
Eighteen MPs took part in a Westminster Hall debate in parliament this morning on the future of the corporation’s local radio services. It comes after news emerged last month that the BBC was considering axing much of its local radio output outside of peak hours and sharing more programmes among stations.
The proposed cuts, aiming to save around £400m, are part of the BBC’s “Delivering Quality First” review. Any cuts will have to be approved by BBC Trust. The BBC insists that no decisions have been made at this time.
The debate, led by Suffolk Coastal MP Dr ThÃ©rÃ¨se Coffrey, saw MPs line up to give examples of how local radio was essential in their community.
Dr Coffrey said the BBC had underestimated ‘the power, the value and the respect’of local radio. She encouraged the corporation to rethink its plans, since “licence-payers have not been asked for their opinion”.
She said she understood that the BBC had to take some tough decisions in order to meet its budget – “It is important that the BBC does make savings, I understand that” – but later added: “It is also important that the BBC keeps listening.”
Andrew George, MP for St Ives, and Steve Brine, MP for Winchester, said local radio held decision-makers to account.
Angela Smith, MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, gave examples of how local radio had helped people through “crises” in her area.
She said BBC Radio Sheffield had “made sure people knew what was happening” when South Yorkshire was hit by floods in 2007. She added: “Local radio motivates communities in crisis.” Smith also mentioned the role of local radio in sports coverage, especially local football.
Jason McCartney, MP for Colne Valley, said: “Local news [reporters] in radio are the only ones who have the patience and care to go in depth to really get the bottom of the stories.”
Nic Dakin, MP from Scunthorpe, said BBC local radio was a “training ground for young reporters” and needed to be protected for the sake of future generations of young journalists.
An Early Day Motion stating that “this house values BBC local radio as a key voice in the community” was tabled in mid-March and has already been signed by 66 MPs.