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Proposed Changes to Local Radio

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Helen Boaden | 12:52 UK time, Tuesday, 25 October 2011

News that there is to be a Parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall tomorrow (Wednesday 26 Oct) on the proposed cuts in BBC Local Radio should come as no surprise to those who understand the passion radio engenders in the mildest of audiences. It's worth remembering that not so many years ago, Radio 4 listeners with banners of protest marched on Broadcasting House demanding that Radio 4 Long Wave transmission be protected. It was.

Today some of the seven million weekly listeners to Local Radio feel just as anxious and outraged by what they fear that the BBC may do to their beloved station of choice. Some even suspect the BBC of class warfare. I have lost count of the number of people who have complained to me about Radio 4 being protected from the cuts at the alleged expense of Local Radio. Or as one rugby league fan in Sheffield asked me fiercely: "Why are you molly coddling that network for the toffs?"

As someone who began her BBC life as a reporter at Radio Leeds and later became the Controller of Radio 4, I know and cherish both sorts of radio and am very proud of how well they serve their different audiences.

It's undeniable however that like BBC One and Children's programmes, Radio 4 is being protected against the full force of the latest round of BBC cuts. I think that's the right decision. All three embody and deliver our public service ethos in a unique way, balancing high quality popular output with programmes which the commercial market couldn't or wouldn't supply.

No service is being exactly mollycoddled. Even in Radio 4, where programme budgets are largely protected, significant behind-the-scenes savings will need to be made by finding new ways of working more efficiently. This includes a 13% reduction in network management and presentation costs and the proposed reorganisation of teams which supply Radio 4 - such as Audio & Music Production - resulting in significantly fewer posts.

In the News and Current Affairs programmes for which I am now responsible as Director of News, (Today, the World at One and File on 4, for example) we will be reducing the number of reporters and taking out 9% in further efficiencies.

Nor is it true to say that Local Radio is being picked on, though its particular circumstances may make it feel like that on the ground.

Local Radio is being asked to make savings of 12%. That's actually lower than the average savings across the rest of the BBC. However - and here's the rub - if you take out of the equation the cost of buildings and technology which are required to broadcast in 40 different local towns around England, then the cuts inevitably fall on the people who make the programmes. That's why in some stations we will be reducing teams by over 20% which no one pretends will be easy.

We are also trying to preserve what really matters to our audiences. We are focussing our resources on Breakfast and mid-morning as well as Drive, weekend mornings and Saturday sport - some 86% of the audience listens to these programmes. To enable us to protect those periods of the day, we are proposing that most of our stations share a mid-afternoon programme with their neighbours - becoming less local and more regional - for our low audience periods. We're also planning to create a shared programme across England for the evenings. Of course if a big breaking news story happens during these shared programmes, the station involved can opt out and broadcast locally again.

And we have plans to reduce our spending on local sports rights, on specialist music programmes and on some ethnic minority programmes. We will not be losing them all but from now on we will be focussing on those which have strong news and local interest.

But it is important to remember that these are still only proposals. The BBC Trust has opened a public consultation on various aspects of the BBC's plans and it will respond in due course.

Are the plans for Local Radio ideal? Not at all. In an ideal world we'd prefer to stay as local across the day as we are now. We'd like to have more, not fewer, staff. But we don't live in an ideal world, we live in this one. And in this one, despite the cuts, I believe that BBC Local Radio can survive and even thrive because it will always have its unique connection to its audiences.

By 2016 we will still have 40 BBC Local Radio stations delivering quality output to audiences who rely on us and often love us.

We have no intention of letting them down.

Helen Boaden is the BBC Director of News


  • Comment number 1.

    "Radio 4 listeners with banners of protest marched on Broadcasting House demanding that Radio 4 Long Wave transmission be protected. It was."

    True, it was at the time but isn't the current policy that long wave will die as the current equipment becomes life expired?

  • Comment number 2.

    Yes, people protested about the removal of Long Wave. In 1993, almost TWO DECADES ago. Thing have moved on a little since then...

  • Comment number 3.

    Mobile broadband is getting more and more expensive for the customers. So moving the Daily Service or Test Match cricket to online only is not an option. Transmitters cost money, but without transmitters, there is no need to make a program.

  • Comment number 4.

    By my calculations, if the plans are implemented fully then 'local' radio will only be local around 56 hours per week, ie about a third of the time. But I wonder about the extent of the savings made by reducing spend on evening and weekend programming, which is often provided by freelances and casuals at relatively low cost. I can't help feeling that this is the beginning of its demise. Before the decade is out, I wonder if their much-prized FM frequency will have all been given over to R5-Live, "local radio" merely providing news opts on the hour and very little else?

  • Comment number 5.


    If you really think you're protecting Breakfast and Drive shows then you have not understood the true impact of these cuts. The changes to early breakfast and afternoons etc. will only account for around half the job cuts. Most of the rest will have to be people who contribute to Breakfast and Drive which only do what they do now because of the hours people donate to the BBC. You also need to understand the flaws in the arbitrary formula used to calculate savings. If Berkshire was the model then you need to know that the people who turn out Breakdast there do so only by working 10/11 hour days every day. Then they go home in tears because of the strain. The formula also ensures that successful stations will be penalised. The big names earning huge salaries at metropolitan stations who've failed to make any difference to those stations have grossly exaggerated the figure for the average cost of local radio staff. That means the successful stations, and they are those that haven't chucked money at big name presenters, are losing more staff. That will have a huge impact on quality and therefore audiences and you'll soon be in that vicious circle where lack of audience means more being taken from your budget.

  • Comment number 6.

    Yes, this government has been harsh on the BBC, especially loading the World Service costs on to the Corporation. But savings can be made without drastically affecting the output of local radio. Even now, those of us on the fringe of an area, like us around Chesterfield who get Radio Sheffield, don't often get reports from our neck of the woods, apart from football, traffic & weather. Already when boradcasts are shared with other stations, it's all Yorkshire and seldom anything re N Derbyshire. That's when I switch off. Don't tell us to listen to commercial radio. PeakFM may be from Chesterfield, but apart from news & info, most local stories are squeezed out by music & adverts. Sheffield's pretty good generally, especially Sarah Major's religous programme on Sunday mornings. We lived in Newcastle upon Tyne for 22 years and Radio Newcastle was excellent: I still listen online from time to time. Look again at how to make savings on local radio without reducing quality & quantity. And the same with regional TV. Not just Look North, but the other regional programmes (few enoughh already).

  • Comment number 7.

    Helen you let the BBC Licence payers down when you accepted the BBC Licence fee settlement so readily.

    Where was the leadership needed to stand up and to defend the BBC, to point out the tremendous service it provides and the support it has from the British Public. You could have taken on the government and won.

    But you bottled it and as a result the BBC is being destroyed.

  • Comment number 8.

    The reductions in local radio services such as radio Shropshire in my opinion seem to be a cut too far. These programmes serve the local communtiy and have a great value to the communities they serve. Local issues are discussed and if they reverted to a Midlands based programme the whole idea of a local service would be eroded. Colin Young's programme (between 12noon and 3pm Monday to Friday) for example is a very popular programme and many people listen during their lunch hour mid weeek and get alot from it. With a Midlands based platform, local issues and information would be lost. He knows the area well and can raise important topics and pleas for help from local organisations. For example today, a local charity in Oswestry was in need of assisatnce for specific items it needed and Colin put this out on air and I have no doubt these items will be forthcoming from his listeners. How would this be resolved in a Midlands prgramme and I'm sure the same would apply to the local arers covered by Radio Stoke and Hereford etc. in similar situations. I appreciate that savings may be needed but perhaps "double manning" on some other shows maybe a way out if it is thought that these local cuts are really necessary.
    These presenters offer a good service. The BBC employ some extremely well paid celebs for TV shows and I feel there are collossal savings would be better there.

  • Comment number 9.

    My BBC days may be over but I thought I had to defend the Beeb given the amount of flack they are receiving.

    Our Director of Change along with his management team have been on a residential course and are now holed-up in our luxurious multimillion-pound building in Salford in an attempt to see where costs can be cut. Joined by the Head of Radio, Head of Media, the Radio Output Manager, the Deputy Head of Radio, the Deputy Head of Media, The Radio Change Manager, Head of Change Management, Radio Editor, Deputy Radio Editor, Radio Media Manager, Head of Radio Change Co-ordination, Global Radio Manager, Local Radio Manager, BBC Radio Media Manager, the Radio Strategy Manager, Media Strategy Manager, Strategic Media Management Manager, Radio Corporate Resourcing Manager, Media Enabling coordinator, Director of Media Change Co-ordination, Change Solutions Director, Head of Radio Enablers, the Human Resources Director, Regional Human Resources Director, Director of Radio Resourcing and the BBC Head of Radio and Media Strategic Change Enablement they have identified a number of areas where your money can be saved, mainly by cutting essential services like local radio and learning content.

    Their proposals will be put forward to the BBC Putting Quality First Management team who will have to add their own proposals and before the document is considered by the BBC Director of Value. She will then submit the proposals to the Director General, The Director of TV and Radio and then hold a seminar with each of the Directors of Radio Output. The results will then be published in a 200 page glossy booklet, highlights of which will probably appear, as usual, in the previous day's Times newspaper.

    And this perfectly shows that the BBC knows how to ensure that your money is spent on providing the best possible content management solutions. Any questions? No? Good.


  • Comment number 10.

    Andy Parsnip i believe that is the best blog comment i have ever seen and sums up all that is wrong within the BBC! BBC delivering delivering quality jobs for management first!

  • Comment number 11.

    My concern is for the elderly and house bound who have very little to look forward to, and relay on radio for comfort and pleasure.We are confronted by politicians and senior executives who have a wonderful life experiance on superb salaries and unrestrictive movment driving and flying all over the world.The ''the housebound'' can only gain pleasure from radio.
    So i say to Helen Boaden, come and experience what life is like in the real world and consider spending money (or just leave local radio alone)


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