The scale of the planned cuts to the BBC’s local and regional services in England will have taken many by surprise. The decision to cut dual presentation in the regions which still had it will probably be the one that arouses the most interest.
But in a sense that might be a fair creative move. Ultimately the question is really about what happens behind-the-scenes with significant job cuts and what content is created.
Are the English regions somehow so inefficient that big cuts can be made without affecting output? Those who work in the regions – dealing with smaller budgets than their colleagues at network and in the devolved nations – would be astounded by any such suggestion and passionately refute it.
Whether the technology they have allows for the most modern working practices is sometimes another matter. Some centres such as Plymouth have modern production facilities. But the static astons in most regions suggest out-of-date or limited production facilities.
Could an investment in modern technology cut job numbers without affecting editorial standards? Obviously any such move would need careful handling and any compulsory redundancies could well lead to industrial action.
It is true though that the English regional map is essentially recognisable from the 1960s – though a number of significant changes were made when, for example, the East Midlands, Hull and the South East gained their own programmes. There is no question of moving to larger regions or sharing facilities like ITV does. At least for the hugely popular 6.30pm programmes.
However other regional output is another matter. The details of the scheme to replace Inside Out leave, for instance, the South West and North West regions without a regular dedicated documentary programme.
Ultimately though, anyone who thinks this is all a big mistake must ask one of two questions.
They must either question the level of the licence fee and some of the commitments the BBC has – such as continuing to pay for free TV licences for some aged over 75.
Or they must believe other services should take more of the pain. Does this go back to the old debate about whether the large price tag for some on-air talent represents value for money. Should the BBC be in the business of mainstream light entertainment or providing services such as Radios 1 and 2? Could the market provide these commercially? Or is their popularity proof the BBC gives something for everyone?
None of this is easy. English regional TV can be easily dismissed by people in the metropolis as a bit naff. Nor does it command the same political importance as output in the devolved nations.
Staying still is never an option. But helping ensure the real stories and real lives of people all across England are properly reflected in a full range of local output is surely one of the most obvious selling points of a public service broadcaster?
PICTURED: BBC London News studio. COPYRIGHT: BBC.
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