More than 20 local news district offices have been closed by the BBC over the last decade, according to the National Union of Journalists.
The district office closures mean the BBC has concentrated journalists at its main centres around the UK and its 39 local radio stations.
According to the NUJ the office closures mean the nearest BBC reporters to many towns and cities is more than hour’s drive away.
Under current cost-cutting the BBC plans to cut 10 per cent from its £150m regional news budget.
The survey findings were released by the NUJ as MPs yesterday debated local news provision.
Shadow culture secretary Kevin Brennans said: “Local news is a precious community asset.
“However, as the NUJ’s survey of BBC district office closures shows, the future of local news is uncertain, and we believe that this Tory Government’s media policies are exacerbating the problems they should be trying to solve.
“Therefore, Labour’s frontbench Culture Media and Sport team join the NUJ in calling on the Government to carry out a review of local news and media plurality. Labour will continue to campaign to safeguard our valued local media into the future.”
ITV is also believed to have made widespread cutbacks to its regional news provision in recent years.
And research by the NUJ has found that at least 418 local newspaper journalist jobs have been cut in the last 17 months alone.
To tackle a “democractic deficit” in local news provision the BBC has agreed to spend £8m a year on measures which include funding 150 local democracy reporters who will share their work with all local media.
Acting NUJ general secretary Seamus Dooley said of the BBC survey: “This survey makes grim reading, but it confirms what our chapels and members on the ground have been warning – the BBC is losing touch with regional audiences.
“Year-on-year cuts at the BBC have led to many local TV and radio offices closing. Reporters are becoming disconnected from local communities. There are huge logistical problems for reporters covering breaking news stories and the loss of regional identity and affinity is also very significant.
“The BBC has a duty to provide a nationwide news service to a consistent standard. No region or community should be short changed. It is ludicrous that at the same time as major savings – with potential job losses – are having to be found in regional TV and radio, the BBC is embarking on an £8m scheme to fund reporters to cover councils in commercially-owned newspapers.”
A BBC spokesperson said: “We’re proud that we have 39 Local Radio stations, 12 regional TV news programmes and 42 local websites offering original journalism right across England and the Channel Islands. It’s a public service no one else provides.
“Our local news partnership will create 150 new journalist jobs to cover local councils and public services. It was a commitment agreed as part of our new charter and is designed to support local democracy.”
BBC district office cuts (source: responses to NUJ survey):
At BBC Essex the Southend and the Colchester office was closed some years ago. The story count collapsed on the breakfast programme. It’s now just a phone in, with news in the bulletins. Pretty much all the staff at BBC Essex are now office-based, except one or two reporters.
Shropshire: The one district office (Telford) closed around five years ago. The staff were absorbed into the general pool of news reporters. Now, with fewer staff there is less content all-round of the county.
Lancashire: There used to be four district studios (with ISDN and a full-time reporter) a decade ago. Now there is one studio and only two full-time district reporters (plus two part-time).
A decade ago at BBC Radio Gloucestershire there were three district reporters. Gloucester & Forest of Dean (the reporter worked from home). Cheltenham & Tewkesbury (the office was at the UCAS building in Cheltenham). Stroud & Cotswolds (the office was at Stroud DC & then in their car). Now they’re all gone and there is one political reporter covering all six constituencies, although the post has been vacant since the end of September.
Radio York has one district office left in Scarborough. The Harrogate office was closed in March 2012. The Northallerton office (also used by BBC Tees) was closed a month earlier. Reporters are no longer assigned districts and work on individual stories set by the news editor apart from Scarborough, reporter Mike Kemp.
BBC Oxford: The district in Banbury was lost in 2008, as well as the district reporter, which has meant less coverage in the north of the county. Banbury is about 30 minutes from Oxford. There are no district reporters and it makes it a challenge to ensure the coverage is not too Oxford-centric.
Sussex and Surrey have not had a district reporter for well over a decade.
In the North East of England the Newcastle, Durham and Sunderland offices closed in 2011. Durham closed because the council wanted its office back and then the reporter worked from home, as did the Sunderland/Wearside reporter. When the Durham reporter retired in 2013, the post lapsed.
In Suffolk, the Bury reporter was lost a couple of years ago. The Lowestoft reporter now works from home.
In Norfolk, the Great Yarmouth office is in process of closing and the reporter will be moved to Norwich and work from their car or Norwich (a two-hour round trip).
In Cumbria, Barrow has one full-time and one part-time reporter (two days a week). In its heyday, many years ago, staff included a receptionist, producers, presenters, reporters etc. The office door is now locked unless guests are expected. Whitehaven office is closing, with a microphone point being installed in another building, but there has been no reporter there for several years. Reporters are now sent out from Carlisle to cover west Cumbria stories. It’s an hour’s drive from Carlisle to Whitehaven.
Humberside has two district reporters, one for NE Linconshire, based out of the soon-to-be-closed Grimsby studio (cost £1.5m – 15 years ago). It will soon move to new smaller premises in Grimsby College. The Bridlington reporter lost his base and works on the road covering East Yorkshire. There was also once a Scunthorpe studio and a reporter, both have now.
BBC Radio Solent used to have a full-time reporter on the Isle of Wight a decade ago and the Bournemouth and Poole reporters were lost last year.
The BBC has submitted this response to the claims made in the NUJ survey: “Our policy is to limit the spend on property so we can invest in journalism. New technology enables us to cover different parts of the country in different ways, without the need for reporters tethered to desks in certain locations. We’re confident our coverage of local news is as comprehensive as it has ever been. In some cases, through digital innovations, some areas are getting more coverage than before. We have also invested in more than 25 new local political reporters over the last 6 years.”
It also offered these clarifications:
“Essex: the offices referred to have been closed for some time with no reduction of the coverage in the area. It was an editorial decision to cover fewer stories better at Breakfast which is proving successful.
“Norfolk: our reporter will still be working and reporting from Great Yarmouth every day. It will not compromise our coverage of the area.
“Newcastle: the office is open and is where the radio station continues to be based.
“The Wearside/County Durham reporter now works from home and his BBC vehicle, using his laptop, comrex and iPhone to broadcast and file flexibly from across the patch in ways that were inconceivable just a few years ago. BBC Newcastle’s commitment to Sunderland was demonstrated only two days ago when the station kicked off its coverage of the triggering of article 50 with a full outside broadcast from the Café Bungalow in Sunderland using the Verv satellite vehicle, utilising the latest satellite technology.
“In Lancashire, we still have a room at the N-Vision HQ from which our reporter covers stories on the Fylde coast. Technology enables us to cover that part of the world as well as ever before.
“Cumbria: We have given extensive coverage to stories from the West of Cumbria. We have given more coverage to the ongoing issues at West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven than any other story over the last two years.
“Radio Humberside has just increased district reporters from 2 to 3 which means the station now has a dedicated Hull reporter.
“Grimsby: We are creating a base in Grimsby and are also looking to expand to cover North Lincolnshire.”