Chaired by their National Trustees, Audience Councils in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland advise the Trust on the perspectives of licence fee payers, and comment on how well different parts of the UK feel the BBC is performing. This year work focused on the changes proposed by the BBC following the new licence fee settlement.
Councils are recruited to reflect the diversity of the UK, and members are volunteers. They listen to audiences' views, and identify issues of importance which the Trust can address. They meet regularly to prepare their advice and we consult them on proposed major changes to the BBC's services and strategy. The four Councils meet together annually to discuss issues relevant to audiences across the UK.
This year, Councils held meetings with licence fee payers specifically to consult them on the performance of the BBC's radio stations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, on BBC Local Radio and on the BBC Asian Network . Members from each Council met to discuss the reviews of BBC Radio 5 Live and the BBC News and BBC Parliament channels with service controllers before finalising their advice to the Trust.
Councils said licence fee payers wanted improved access to BBC services. During the year, there was a significant improvement in access to BBC Radio Wales on FM, BBC Alba was made available on Freeview, and Councils have asked for a strategy for the roll-out of services for nations and regions on HD. The Trust's reviews of the nations' radio services focused, as Councils had suggested, on how they supported citizenship and civil society. Councils also wanted the BBC to improve how it portrays the contemporary UK, and so welcomed Executive research on how different age groups are served, and an increase in network broadcasts of programmes made in English regions.
Key audience issues included the importance of maintaining regional sports coverage in England; accountability arrangements for the Welsh language channel S4C (to be funded largely from the licence fee from 2013/14); the sustainability of network production in Northern Ireland; and the loss of some radio networks from Freeview in Scotland. Councils presented responses on the BBC's proposals for implementing its strategy, raising concerns on proposed programme sharing between local radio stations in England and the future of opt-out programming on BBC Two in the nations.
Audience Council England noted concerns about the potential loss of regional current affairs programming, and the impact on local democracy. Councils in Scotland and Northern Ireland highlighted concerns with the way that the BBC portrayed their nations and communities to a UK-wide audience. Audience Council Wales considered that core services for Wales in both Welsh and English should be strengthened.
Councils want the BBC to set out a strategy for nations and English opt-out TV programmes on HD across the UK which will safeguard the range and quality of content. They would like BBC News to do more to compare public policy differences between the nations. Councils welcome the BBC's proposal to broadcast more nations' programmes on the networks, while ensuring that their cultural distinctiveness is preserved. Further details of the Councils' advice to the Trust can be found in their own annual reviews.
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