Why the BBC should abandon 700+m "regional news" to fund local radio, BBC three,
Is Sally Taylor (and her colleagues) really worth over seven hundred million pounds a year? Photograph: BBC
Why am I making these proposals in the first place?
Following the recent announcement to "take BBC three
online", I thought I would take a look at the BBC programme budget and see if there was an alternative.
It seems to me that to reduce the BBC budget by 0.5% by taking a service which is valued by a normally hard-to-reach demographic was unfair.
And I think there is a gaping hole in the budget of BBC One
that needs urgent attention.
With the renewal of the BBC Charter coming up soon, now might be the time to act.
What am I proposing?
I am saying that the BBC needs to abandon BBC local news in England and Wales
because it costs a fortune to provide, is poor value for money and it is not very good.
I am saying that the hundreds of millions of pounds spend should be used to provide:
BBC - Press Office - BBC Nations & Regions
- Funding a new family-comedy slot at 6:30pm on BBC One;
- Funds to keep broadcasting BBC three as a TV channel for the next decade;
- Funds to make BBC FOUR a better service;
- Money for local radio to improve the local radio news websites (and Red Button) and provide a full local news service in the 6:30pm-7pm slot.
- Provide a Scottish Six news programme at 6pm on BBC One Scotland, and a similar service for Northern Ireland.
- Save £615 million pounds;
"BBC Nations & Regions is the largest regional broadcasting operation in the UK- accounting for more than £550m of BBC expenditure and employing nearly 7,000 staff across the UK."
At 2014 prices, half-and-hour evening slot costs £715,000,000 a year.
The problem with regional news
The first problem with regional news is that it is very expensive - costing £715m a year. That's more than enough to fund BBC local radio FIVE times or BBC TWO
, BBC three AND BBC FOUR.
The second problem is that it is poorly targeted. Even back in the 1960s the BBC observed:
"The boundaries were drawn some forty years ago not on any basis of community interest but to match the range of the transmitters. These are regions devised by engineers rather than sociologists. We respect the loyalties which the present English Regions have created but we now propose to replace them with eight smaller and more socially logical regions. " - Broadcasting in the Seventies
The current regions are too large to be socially logical and provide local news to anyone. Real people are interested in what happens in their street, their town. If they live in a city, they care what is happening in their part of the city.
No one really
care what's happening in their "region
". To spend over £700m a year on a service to these areas is wrong.
The reason for them is they are a legacy of the start of the ITV network
in the 1950s and 1960s. The BBC had to match a network of ITV companies that most people have long since forgotten about.
The Scottish issue
The government and legal system in Scotland (assuming that it stays within the Union) is different to that in England and Wales. Because of this a special 6pm programme for BBC One Scotland should be provided. This should use the main BBC news
packages for international and UK-wide news, but also provide suitable Scottish Parliamentary and domestic priority stories.
The Northern Ireland Issue
Exactly the same arguments can be made for Northern Ireland: therefore a 6pm news programme "edited and re-purposed" for the province is also essential.
What to do with the £715m saved?
Firstly there needs to be some funds allocated to Scotland and Northern Ireland for their special 6pm and 10pm news.
Then £20m should go to enable BBC local radio in England to provide a comprehensive news programme at 6:30pm and 10:25pm and training, staff and support to ensure that the BBC local radio news websites are fit for purpose.
£30m should go to BBC three to enable it to be kept as a television service. It is important to not disenfranchise those young adults who can't or won't go online.
£50m should go to BBC FOUR. It is an excellent channel that suffers from having too small a budget to provide what it does in enough quality
. This money should be able to provide a weekly hour of new science, history, arts, international affairs and
And what of the empty slot between the BBC News and The One Show?
I propose that BBC One takes a leaf out of BBC Radio 4
and uses the slot as an comedy antidote to the news. Five slot might mean a panel show (say, QI), a stand-up show (like Russell Howard, but pre-watershed), something leftfield (like The Might Boosh) and there's still room for some satire.