MPs hit out at BBC for cutting local radio to fund regional online services

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MPs hit out at BBC for cutting local radio to fund regional online services

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The BBC risks reducing services to older people by its decision to divert spending from local radio to online services as part of a strategy to shift operations outside London, according to MPs.

The national broadcaster has also failed to set out a clear plan to deliver benefits from the wider shake-up, which includes moving £700mn in spending from the capital to the regions by 2028, a report by the House of Commons public accounts committee published on Wednesday has found.

The report said the BBC was “overly focused” on redirecting the spending as a measure of success in itself, rather than assessing its impact in areas such as improving local services or job creation.

The committee said it was worried about the decision to divert more of the broadcaster’s budget to its online activities. “Particular concerns relate to the BBC moving budgets from its local radio to local online services . . . in effect reducing services for older people or those less able to access online platforms.”

The BBC announced significant cuts to local radio station programming in 2022, which resulted in job losses at the 39 networks in England and filling parts of their schedules with shared programming.

The move led to widespread criticism. Campaigners said that older listeners risked being isolated as they were more reliant on traditional radio services and less likely to use smart devices. They also argued that the loss of well-known local presenters, as a result of lay-offs, removed a valuable link to communities.

The report accused the BBC of being selective in how it communicated its strategy to shift more of its operations outside London, suggesting the corporation did so to present itself in a more favourable light.

The committee cited the example of the BBC highlighting a move of offices within Birmingham as part of the shake-up, while “dissociating” more contentious elements of the plan from the strategy.

“Parliament and the public must be fully satisfied that the BBC is not simply cherry-picking examples of success . . . while sweeping bad news stories under the rug as not part of the programme, in particular cuts to local radio,” said Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the committee.

The report urged the BBC to “refresh” its strategy after finding it was behind schedule with parts of it and had offered no plans to get back on track.

It highlighted audio production, which has had just 1 per cent of its budget moved outside London since March 2020. This was in part due to the decision last year to backtrack on moving the BBC Concert Orchestra outside London.

Thomas Wrathmell, the executive overseeing the shake-up, said the BBC was “disappointed by some of the commentary in the committee’s report and look forward to addressing the issues raised when we provide our written response”.

He added: “We have a very clear plan on how we will move investment, programming and decision-making across the UK to get closer to audiences, support the country’s diverse creative sectors, and develop and nurture new talent. Our pioneering programme is deliberately ambitious and has been fully assessed.”

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