Bleasdale, Russell and McCartney support Radio Merseyside

Alan Bleasdale Alan Bleasdale's first broadcast work was on BBC Radio Merseyside

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A group of Liverpool writers and cultural figures have challenged proposed 20% budget cuts to BBC Radio Merseyside in a letter to The Times.

The station gave "voice to the beating heart" of the community, the letter from Alan Bleasdale, Willy Russell, Roger McGough, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Mike McCartney and Mal Young said.

The BBC Trust is reviewing the proposals for changes to local radio.

A spokesperson said they could not comment ahead of the review.

Boys From The Blackstuff writer Alan Bleasdale's first broadcast work was on the station, as was Willy Russell's radio debut, the letter said.

'Vital and unique'

The proposed cuts were announced in October by BBC director general Mark Thompson, as part of "Delivering Quality First", an attempt to cut 20% from the BBC's budget by 2017, which could see 2,000 jobs lost across the corporation.

Nearly 400 jobs are set to go in local and regional broadcasting across England, including 280 in local radio, in an attempt to save a total of £27m across the English regions.

The cuts have been condemned by unions including the National Union of Journalists and technicians' union Bectu.

One of the signatories of the letter to the Times, Mal Young, independent TV producer and former head of BBC Drama, said: "The BBC's local output is the most unique in the world.

"Local radio is the nearest you can get to your audience.

"It gives a platform for people to engage and become part of the community

"I think that is a vital and unique part of the BBC's output and has to be protected."

'Articulate public response'

The letter said "Whether in politics or sport, whether in celebration or sometimes crushing defeat, BBC Radio Merseyside has given voice to the beating heart of this community.

"To paraphrase Mark Thompson and the great Bill Shankly, BBC Radio Merseyside is not merely a 'unique cultural exercise', it's much more important than that.

"We hope that the BBC Trust holds this in mind as it makes its deliberations."

Appearing before the House of Common's Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in December Lord Patten, chair of the BBC Trust said: "The future of local radio is the issue that has attracted by far the largest and most articulate public response.

"We have to take very seriously the reactions that we have heard."

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