ITV has revised its plan to cut the number of regional news bulletins but still intends to make £40m in savings that could jeopardise hundreds of jobs.
The broadcaster still intends to reduce the number of news regions from 17 to nine in the cuts proposed by the ITV executive chairman, Michael Grade, last September. But ITV has now revised its restructuring proposals to introduce 18 new “sub-regional services”.
The original proposals involve changing to a nine-region set-up with a number of short opt outs for more localised news. The changes would have included the merger of the Border TV region with Tyne Tees and the merger of the West region with the Westcountry region.
Under the revised proposals, however, Tyne Tees becomes one of three sub-regional services in a North of England/South of Scotland region and West and Westcountry form part of the South West region, which has three sub-regions.
Each of the 18 sub-regions will have six minutes of news from their areas during flagship regional news programmes, in what ITV called a “newsbelt” at 6.05pm .
Sub-regions will also have a bulletin after News at Ten, but some will be pre-recorded.
The other regions under the revised scheme would be: ITV Meridian on the south coast, ITV Central, ITV Anglia, ITV Yorkshire, ITV London, ITV Wales and ITV Granada and ITV South West incorporating ITV West and ITV Westcountry.
London, Wales and Granada in the northwest of England will not have sub-regions.
Mike Jermey, the director of ITV regions and network news operations, said that recording some elements of the late evening bulletins would allow ITV to be more local, “or sub-regional” than under the broadcaster’s original plan.
He added said that no final decision had been made on the names for the regions, which jobs would be axed or when the plan would be implemented.
The National Union of Journalists‘s broadcasting representative, Paul McLaughlin, said the reduction in local news operations from 27 to 18 remained part of the ITV proposal and that this is something the union ‘would not accept”.
But McLaughlin welcomed the changes as ‘a step in the right direction’and he urged both the government and the broadcasting regulator Ofcom to consider funding options to keep regional news on ITV. The proposals will have to be approved by Ofcom later this year.
Media Secretary Andy Burnham has said he wants to look at ways to sustain regional news services, adopting a similar hard line to his predecessor James Purnell over ITV’s plan.
Giving evidence to the House of Lords Communications Committee on Wednesday, Burnham indicated that he shared his predecessor’s concerns.
‘I don’t accept that regional news is doomed,’Burnham told the committee. ‘I don’t accept that for a minute.I think there needs to be consideration given to a number of ways where we might be able to sustain a regional news service .I don’t accept for a second that the tide is washing over us and we have to let regional news go.
He indicated that once Ofcom addressed the issue in the second stage of its review later this year, there would be an opportunity for a “wider discussion about preserving what the public want”.