BBC announces move away from London in ‘biggest transformation in decades’

Sherna Noah, PA Senior Entertainment Correspondent
·4-min read

The BBC has unveiled plans to “better reflect” all parts of the UK with more programmes made outside of London and a soap set in the North of England on the cards.

It will shift away from London over the next six years in what it bills as its “biggest transformation in decades”.

News and current affairs programmes like Newsnight will be presented from different UK bases and Radio 4’s Today show will be co-hosted from outside London for at least 100 episodes a year.

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Viewers will see a “noticeable shift in portrayal of different parts of the UK in drama, comedy and factual” shows, the broadcaster pledged.

The BBC, which was accused of failing to understand the vote for Brexit, hopes the move changes the tone of its programmes and journalism.

The decision could also result in a BBC rival to ITV soap Coronation Street.

The broadcaster said it would air two new long-running drama series – one from the North of England and the other from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Viewers would see around 30 or more episodes a year of the soap or drama, with the exact format to be decided.

The BBC said that “major parts of BBC News” would “shift across the UK … ensuring we cover the stories that matter most to audiences and more effectively representing different voices and perspectives”.

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As part of those plans, Radio 4 programme PM would also be presented from across the UK.

It comes after former Today programme host John Humphrys said the BBC had failed to understand the vote for Brexit.

And Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said “the BBC needs to be closer to, and understand the perspectives of, the whole of the United Kingdom and avoid providing a narrow urban outlook”.

Rob Burley, who created Politics Live in 2018, said the changes to BBC News meant his role as editor of live political programmes had “closed”.

“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,” added Mr Burley, who also oversaw the Andrew Marr Show, Westminster Hour and Newswatch.

Under the new plan, a “clear majority” of the BBC’s “UK-wide TV will be made across the UK” and not just in London.

More than 100 new and returning drama and comedy titles will reflect the lives and communities of audiences outside London over the next three years, the BBC said.

BBC Radio 3 and 6 Music would be “rooted in Salford” while, also in radio, Newsbeat and Asian Network would be based in Birmingham.

Key daytime programmes on Radio 1, 1Xtra and Radio 2 would be made across the UK and 50% of network radio and music spend would be outside London by 2027/28.

The BBC said the plans, which will see more of its operations move to Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds and Salford, will “cement our commitment to better reflect, represent, and serve all parts of the country”.

Unveiling the new plans, which come as the BBC begins discussions with the Government over the future cost of the licence fee, BBC Director-General Tim Davie said that the “challenges for the BBC are real, and we must act now”.

He told BBC staff that “people must feel we are closer to them”.

With the rise of global streaming giants “the jeopardy for the BBC remains high”, he added.

“Our mission must be to deliver for the whole of the UK and ensure every household gets value from the BBC,” Mr Davie said.

“These plans will get us closer to audiences, create jobs and investment, and develop and nurture new talent.”

By 2027/28, the BBC will spend at least an extra £700 million across the UK, it said.

More performances from the Proms – which sparked controversy last year over an initial decision to play Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory without lyrics – would be broadcast outside London.

Broadcaster John Humphrys
Former Today programme host John Humphrys said the BBC had failed to understand the vote for Brexit (Yui Mok/PA)

Around 400 roles – around half of those in BBC News – would be relocated outside London.

The BBC previously announced around 500 job cuts in news as part of a restructure.

Trade union Bectu welcomed the BBC’s plans “to build on its strong local offering and prioritise getting closer to communities across the nations and regions of the UK”.

Julian Knight MP, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, welcomed the move which he said would “give licence fee payers greater bang for their buck”.

But he urged the BBC not to “repeat some of the costly mistakes made by the BBC in its previous move to Salford”, saying: “This has to represent value for money for licence fee payers.”

The BBC previously moved hundreds of staff and a number of services to Salford, affecting Children’s, Sport, and 5 Live.