BBC Regional Politics Coverage

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:12 pm on 22nd June 2020.

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Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Opposition Whip (Commons) 7:12 pm, 22nd June 2020

It is a pleasure to follow Tom Hunt. May I add my congratulations to Neil Parish for bringing about the debate? I also congratulate my hon. Friend Liz Twist on raising this matter last week in the Chamber and really pushing the debate along.

I am not going to bash the BBC. I am very proud of the BBC. It has been one of our most fabulous exports and one of the great institutions of this nation. Just witness the exports it has driven for us and some of the original programming it has created. In the agenda it has driven, whether it be political, environmental, social or whatever, it has made a huge contribution, and the cost that comes at to a household is presently 43p a day. I remember it running an advert when it was 20p a day—it does not seem that long ago; it was probably 15 or 20 years ago—but when we take into account cost-of-living rises and inflation, we see the value we derive from it is huge, given its cost per day to the average person.

The great thing about the BBC has been its regionality. I have lived in different regions of England and spent several years in more or less every place, and what is interesting is feeling part of that region and its identity. One of the greatest achievements of the BBC, with the demise of the regional ITV network, has been the strength and sense of cohesion within regions that it has helped foster. Latterly, I have established myself in the midlands again, where I find myself with Nick Owen. Some hon. Members may remember Nick Owen—a great TV professional, who was on national TV for many years and now fronts “Midlands Today”, and so on. I think about credibility and trust, which many hon. Members have raised, and these individuals have earned, over many years, the confidence and credibility to present programming and give a sense of cohesion and regional identity. That also translates into the political programming that they deliver.

Shortly after getting elected in 2017, I found myself on the “Sunday Politics” programme and it was great. I cannot remember quite what the issues were, but there I was with Margot James—until recently, the Member of Parliament for Stourbridge—and we had a good discussion about all sorts of things. We were in front of the cameras presenting our case on those particular topics. I think that that has been really important and is worth fighting for.

It seems counterintuitive to be here discussing this when we are pushing for, and the public want, greater devolution, with more mayors, more combined authorities and perhaps more police and crime commissioners—although the jury is out on that one. They should be held to account. They should be on these programmes explaining to the public how they arrive at their priorities, how they are spending the money and what they see as important, and without this sort of programming, those people will not be visible. They will not be seen and heard. They may have a very good case to make, but they will not be heard. It is really important for our democracy that these platforms are available to them. Of course, it is important that we as MPs have that visibility, scrutiny and accountability as well.

After that first appearance, I was amazed at the number of people who texted me to say, “I saw you on ‘Sunday Politics.” I did not realise that so many people had watched it, but it just goes to show that it did have an audience. One of the realisations of the last few years—with the trauma and seismic upheaval of Brexit, and now with the crisis of covid-19—is just how many people are tuned into political programming, because they want to understand what is going on. This is where the platforms are so important. It is about having the chance to explain why, with covid-19, there may be a regional disparity and why there might be different reactions from local authorities on how they are going about their programmes for recovery.

I can think back to times over the last few years when there has been programming challenging some of the issues in our region—for example, on Northamptonshire County Council and how it spent all that money building itself a new council office. Regional programming was needed to bring that out and expose it to the public. More locally, I have been campaigning against Warwick District Council, which is trying to do a similar thing. We have managed to stop it, but that was put out in the public sphere and we had that debate. That is why regional programming is important.

We have heard a lot in this debate about the value of “Inside Out” as a programme and how cost-effective it is. We think of its annual budget of £6 million for 60 people, with 11 regions serviced, and of how much it has fed into the different platforms in national news, online and so on.