BBC trust chair signals retreat on local radio cutbacks

BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten has said the BBC should water down its proposed cuts to local adio.

Last year the corporation announced plans to slash the BBC local radio budget by 14 per cent as part of the “Delivering Quality First” initiative, but the organisation has since met with protest from the public and politicians.

In a speech to the Oxford Media Convention today, the BBC chairman said the BBC should ‘look again” at the planned cuts for local radio.

‘While the BBC needs to reduce costs in these areas just as it does everywhere else, we agree that local and regional services in England provide something unique for audiences that can otherwise be neglected by the mainstream media,’he said.

“The BBC cannot afford to get these changes wrong. In total, we expect these changes to cost the BBC no more than about £10 million.”

Patten also believes that plans for some local stations to share afternoon content should be scaled back and urged the “local identity” of radio stations to be protected.

In order for local radio newsrooms to be “adequately staffed” Patten said he had ‘asked the management to look again at the planned cuts to local radio”.

Asked where the money will be saved from, he replied: ‘I can’t tell you where the £10 million will be found.

“But £10 million out of a budget of £30 billion, even though we’re not going to be flushed with cash, shouldn’t be impossible.”

It had been estimated that around £15m will be cut from the budget of the 40 local radio stations in England with the loss of 280 jobs.

Politicians have described the plans as a ‘crippling blow’to local journalism.

In response to today’s news NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “Local radio is for some sections of the population, particularly the elderly, a lifeline. I am pleased that the BBC Trust has made this small concession, but it has obviously not listened to the concerns of the many others who took part in the consultation.

“These cuts, which will result in the loss of 2,000 jobs, on top of the 7,000 jobs lost since 2004, will severely damage the quality of the service provided by the BBC. It will damage its ability to produce quality creative programming and investigative journalism.

“It will damage its function as a public service broadcaster. I am also amazed that the Trust is happy to agree to the 40 per cent cuts at the Asian Network, a launchpad for new Asian talent. Fifteen posts will go by 2013 and the news team will move out of Leicester to London. The Trust appears to have rubberstamped the BBC’s management plans, without listening to the concerns made in the consultation.

‘The scandal is that the reason why the corporation is forced to make these cuts is because of the shocking deal, made behind closed doors, by Mark Thompson. He agreed to freeze the license fee until 2017, while agreeing to take on extra responsibilities, such as the World Service, which will cost an extra £340 million. NUJ research shows that licence fee payers are prepared to pay more to prevent a downgrading of the service. It is vital that the license fee settlement is renegotiated.”

The Trust’s interim report largely backs the DQF proposals, however it has asked the BBC management to scale back plans to make local radio stations share afternoon shows, to review plans to cut Radio 5 Live’s weekly current affairs and has asked for a rethink on the plans to merge the BBC’s local current affairs programme Inside Out, which faced cuts of 40 per cent, into super regions.

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