BBC to overhaul local radio services with stations sharing more programmes

The BBC is to overhaul its local radio services with stations sharing more content and broadcasting less programming unique to their area.

Plans confirmed by the broadcaster on Monday include the loss of 48 jobs across local staffing in England, amounting to a total reduction of 2%.

The proposals come as part of the BBC’s new strategy, announced in May, to create a “modern, digital-led” broadcaster.

All 39 BBC local radio stations will continue with their own dedicated local programming from 6am to 2pm on weekdays.

However, after 2pm the BBC will produce 18 afternoon programmes across England that will be shared between stations.

Ten local programmes will then be shared across England between 6-10pm on weekdays, across the day on Saturday and on Sunday mornings, serving areas broadly mirroring the existing local TV areas.

The BBC said there will be “additional investment” to support the production of the new shows.

The 48 jobs being cut include 40 due to the documentary series We Are England coming to an end, which was announced in May.

Greater programme sharing will result in 139 fewer roles in audio teams, but there will be around 131 additional roles across local news services.

In response to the announcement, the head of The Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (Bectu), Philippa Childs, said: “This announcement and the periods of uncertainty that will follow are extremely concerning.

“The impact on affected staff is devastating and we will do everything we can to support our members.

“The Government’s decision to freeze the licence fee has made these damaging cuts inevitable.

“Behind the political shrill about the BBC is the reality of today’s announcement: talented and hardworking people who deliver local services face job losses, and audiences and communities will suffer from reduced local output and ultimately a reduced BBC.

“Just last month we saw how important public service broadcasting and local radio are to our democracy via prime ministerial interviews.

“This disappointing move reinforces the need for a licence fee that keeps pace with inflation and enables long-term planning and stability.

“As the BBC seeks to meet the challenges of a changing media landscape Bectu will continue to fully engage with them to ensure the public service broadcaster is positioned strongly for the future and can continue to deliver for the public and provide security for its workforce.”

The changes will see around £19 million reprioritised from broadcast services towards online and multi-media production.

The BBC is also creating 11 investigative reporting teams across the country whose focus will be local issues across TV, radio and online.

Paul Siegart, national broadcasting officer at the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), also responded to the news, saying: “This is the biggest threat facing local radio since it launched in 1967.

“The key to its success over the past 50 years has been its localness. When it stops being local it loses its USP. People in Kent don’t care about what is going on in Sussex.

“If these proposals are allowed to go ahead it will be the beginning of the end for local radio.

“The NUJ is not opposed to the BBC investing in digital services, but it should not be at the expense of local radio and the provision of quality local news and information to the communities it serves.

“Over five million people listen to it and many of them pay their licence fee largely because of local radio. Tonight, they have every right to be angry.”

A new fund to commission original local programmes and podcasts will also be created.

Proposals also include establishing BBC Sounds producer roles at all local bases to develop new audio programmes and formats for online.

BBC Director-General Tim Davie
BBC director-general Tim Davie (Hannah McKay/PA)

Rhodri Talfan Davies, BBC director of nations, said: “These are ambitious and far-reaching proposals to grow the value we deliver to local audiences everywhere.

“The plans will help us connect with more people in more communities right across England – striking a better balance between our broadcast and online services – and ensuring we remain a cornerstone of local life for generations to come.”

The changes follow the BBC’s announcement of a new digital-first “blueprint” in May, which included the news that BBC Four and CBBC will end as linear channels in the coming years.

In September, it announced that 382 jobs at World Service will be cut as part of plans to move to a digital-led service.

Regional TV news programmes in Oxford and Cambridge are also among the services being scrapped – merging with the BBC’s Southampton and Norwich operations.

Tim Davie, who took over from Lord Tony Hall as director-general in September 2020, has overseen a slimming down of the corporation since starting in the role.

The BBC also needs to save a further £285 million in response to the announcement in January that the licence fee will be frozen for the next two years.