BBC Radio 4

    BBC Monitoring at Caversham - hard of hearing?

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    Editor's note: this week's item from Radio 4's accountability programme Feedback is about BBC Monitoring after the renegotiated licence fee settlement - SB

    Shortly before his execution Charles 1 was taken to Caversham Park near Reading, where he wrote to his son James to arrange their last meeting. By the time his other son, Charles 2nd had returned from exile to regain the throne, Caversham had fallen into ruin and disrepair.

    It´s not quite so dramatic, but major threats face the current day occupants of the historic park. The BBC Monitoring Unit is to undergo unprecedented cuts and a change of funding which could change what they do forever. The Unit has been at Caversham since 1942 occupying a beautiful early Victorian building which dominates the skyline above Reading and the River Thames.

    With its listening stations around the world it was the first to hear of the death of Hitler, and of Khruschev"s decision to withdraw missiles from Cuba and so avoid a terrifying nuclear confrontation. Today its main customers are UK Government departments including MI5 and MI6, BBC newsrooms, businesses here and abroad, and research and academic institutions.

    Until now its main funding has come, not from the licence fee, but from a direct Government grant. However in the whirlwind weekend when the latest BBC licence fee deal was thrashed out the Government announced that from 2013 the Government would withdraw its financial support and the Monitoring Unit would be funded from the licence fee.

    In other words, it will have to compete for funds with all the other BBC activities. Members of the unit are already facing cuts of 26%, and there could well be more in the offing. How could that affect listeners? For Feedback I travelled to Caversham to talk to the Director of BBC Monitoring, Chris Westcott, about the changes and challenges they present. There are 8 clocks on the wall of his outer office, each showing a different time. Written above them the places to which they refer - Washington, Kiev, Cairo, Nairobi, Moscow, Baku,Tashkent, Delhi.

    With a cup of tea in my hand, I knocked on the door and went in:

    Roger Bolton is presenter of Feedback

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