First published: 18/3/2021
The BBC has revealed plans to shift its journalistic centre outside London over the next six years to better represent “different voices and perspectives” from across the UK.
Director-general Tim Davie told staff on Thursday that hundreds of their jobs will be relocated so the broadcaster can better connect with audiences and tell stories “from all corners of the UK”.
According to the National Union of Journalists, 400 roles in total are being moved out of London (not just in news) and 150 posts are being closed.
Among those closures was Rob Burley’s role as editor of live political programmes, which encompassed the Andrew Marr Show, Politics Live, Newscast, Westminster Hour and Newswatch.
Burley tweeted: “Today’s news is personally sad: I love the BBC and have defended it passionately, but I’m now looking forward to what comes next, inside the BBC or outside in the wider world.”
Five “story teams”, half of all those based in the UK, will move outside London: including the climate and science team to Cardiff, the technology team to Glasgow, and the learning and identity team and part of the new UK insight team charged with finding new, original and audience-focused stories to Leeds.
Technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones tweeted that it was a “tricky day” for his team, saying Glasgow is a “a great city, but many of us not at the stage in life where we can uproot our families”.
His colleague, technology reporter Zoe Kleinman, described it as a “personal and painful moment for my amazing team and I”.
The business and longform audio teams, the latter of which produces current affairs radio programmes and podcasts, will move to Salford, where the radio base will be expanding and where the rest of the business teams are already based and will be expanded.
Newsbeat, the Asian Network news team and parts of the data team will all move to Birmingham in what Davie described as “part of an exciting local plan for the region which includes the creation of a new, vibrant production hub”.
Radio 4 will move a number of its factual strands outside London and the Today programme will be co-presented from outside London for at least 100 episodes a year, while PM will regularly come from different locations into BBC local radio stations.
Newsnight will also be presented from a number of different bases.
BBC local news
Davie said a new network of more than 100 digital reporters would be created “to bring us closer to some of the UK’s most under-served communities” and increase the quality and depth of the BBC’s online local reporting.
However the News Media Association urged the BBC to rethink this plan and instead channel any extra investment in local news through the existing Local News Partnership, which funds the Local Democracy Reporter scheme.
The BBC said it would maintain its current Local News Partnership funding of £8m a year supporting 150 reporters for commercial publishers and expand it to give them full access to its community video reporters.
But NMA chairman and Newsquest chief executive Henry Faure Walker said: “Despite progress in recent years to work in genuine partnership with the independent local news media sector, it appears today that the BBC has forgotten this and is yet again seeking to encroach on territory already catered for by commercial players.”
He labelled the new plan “ill-advised” and said it would “hurt independent local news providers at a time when they are needed by the public more than ever”.
Davie also said the BBC would move local news “right to the heart of our online portfolio. Front and centre – not hidden away – across BBC iPlayer, BBC News, BBC Sport and BBC Sounds.”
This will include new BBC local bulletins being introduced for more than 50 areas on BBC Sounds to provide “relevant local information that is easy to find”.
Salford will become the main base for the BBC’s digital and technology teams, with more than 100 digital engineering jobs created outside London to support the news product development and online editorial teams.
Davie said: “Our mission must be to deliver for the whole of the UK and ensure every household gets value from the BBC. These plans will get us closer to audiences, create jobs and investment, and develop and nurture new talent.
“Over the last year, the BBC – which has been an essential part of the UK’s culture, democracy and creativity for almost a century – has helped inform, educate and entertain all four nations, as we have collectively faced some of our toughest moments in recent history.
“Now, as we look to the future, we must play our part in supporting social and economic recovery; rebuilding the creative sector and telling the stories that need to be heard from all corners of the UK.”
Davie revealed the BBC will cumulatively spend at least an extra £700m outside London by 2027/28, generating an estimated economic benefit of more than £850m.
He said the reach of BBC News within UK adults is up to 86% from 81% a year ago and that it had done an “outstanding job delivering impartial output” throughout the past year, including in Covid-19, Brexit and US election coverage.
‘Devil in the detail’
Redundancies at BBC News and teams across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland over the past year means the public service BBC is smaller by more than 900 people than this time last year.
Paul Siegert, the NUJ’s national broadcasting organiser said: “We welcome more diversity and creating more content out of London is a good thing, as is extra investment in apprenticeships.
“However, it’s strange that at the same time the BBC is talking about the importance of getting out of London and investing in the regions as a means of better serving the audience, it has also axed 450 posts in English regions and cut £25m from that budget. Are jobs in Cardiff, Bristol, or Leeds more important than jobs in Southampton, Tunbridge Wells or Norwich?
“How is making existing staff in Leeds redundant while at the same time moving other jobs from London to Leeds cost-effective or getting closer to the audience?”
Media union Bectu’s national secretary Noel McClean said the “devil will be in the detail” of the plans and that the need for redundancies should be minimised.
But he said: “One of the greatest benefits of public service broadcasting is the opportunity to tell the stories of all peoples across the nations and regions of the UK.
“It is good to see the BBC wanting to build on its strong local offering and prioritise getting closer to communities across the nations and regions of the UK.”
DCMS committee chairman Julian Knight welcomed the plan, saying it “will give licence-fee payers greater bang for their buck. It’s the start of greater recognition of the need to commit to and rebalance audiences outside London.
“However, we hope these changes will not repeat some of the costly mistakes made by the BBC in its previous move to Salford. This has to represent value for money for licence-fee payers.”
Picture: PA Wire/PA Images/Andrew Milligan