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April 15, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 7:40am

Outgoing Radio 4 controller admits cutbacks have impacted station’s programmes and reporting

By James Walker

Outgoing BBC Radio 4 controller Gwyneth Williams has admitted cutbacks at the station have impacted on its programmes and staff reporting.

Williams also said it was a “big struggle” to get more women on the Today programme, the station’s flagship morning news and current affairs show.

She made the comments during an interview on Radio 4’s Feedback programme, a forum for readers to ask questions and make comments on BBC output, hosted by Roger Bolton.

Williams announced that she would leave Radio 4 earlier this year, after more than eight years as controller.

Her on-air comments follow issues raised by BBC radio journalists over plans to merge staff at Radio 4’s The World Tonight and the BBC World Service’s Newshour. The National Union of Journalists has warned six production jobs would be lost as a result of the merger.

When Bolton said cuts to resources meant fewer programme items as well as staff reporting and travelling less, Williams agreed that shows had been affected by savings.

She said: “Yes I think that it is true that we have to accept when you do cut programme budgets it has an impact on the kind of things we do. Nevertheless, the programmes are intelligent, the people are extraordinary who make them and our standards and quality are very high.”

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A reader question put to Williams asked for details on how much the Radio 4 budget had been cut in real terms. The outgoing controller said a “chunk” had been taken out of the budgets, but it was “quite difficult” explain cuts in detail.

Williams said she did not believe cutbacks had led to BBC radio sounding cheaper, but told presenter Bolton: “I do think you’re right… to point out that this is something we have to guard against. It’s essential that the BBC recognises, and I know it does, the historic treasure of Radio 4 in its midst.”

The BBC News division has been told to make £80m of annual savings by 2019/20 as part of wider cutbacks across the corporation.

When asked why she was leaving the station, Williams said: “Eight years is a pretty good innings… and I’ve done a lot of the things I set out to do. I’m looking forward to doing other things outside the BBC… I think it’s time for someone else to have a go.”

Speaking about Williams’ legacy as controller, Bolton said “finally the Today programme has more women”, with Mishal Husain and Martha Kearney in the presenting line-up.

He asked: “That was a big struggle, wasn’t it?” To which Williams replied: “It was and I’m delighted with all my presenters. I think they’re at the top of their game.”

Picture: BBC

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