Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons on 27th April 2023.
What discussions she has had with the BBC on its proposed cuts to local radio services.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport regularly meets the BBC to discuss a range of issues. Ministers have met the BBC on several occasions since the announcement, where we have expressed the House’s shared concerns about the BBC’s plans to reduce parts of its local radio output. Ministers made clear that the BBC must continue to provide distinctive and genuinely local radio services, with content that represents and serves communities from all corners of the UK.
Well, the BBC is not doing that, and I am furious that BBC Radio Humberside is essentially being trashed. Local radio content will end at 2 pm each day. There is no coverage at weekends. Local presenters, including Burnsy, have had to apply for their jobs, and only one was successful. The rest are facing gagging clauses and fear losing their redundancy pay if they speak out. This is basically the end of local public service radio, which is irreplaceable, and the BBC management will not listen. It is easier to get a meeting with the Prime Minister than the director-general. Can I ask Ministers to do what Burnsy would suggest, and get BBC managers to give their heads a wobble and sort this out?
I shall do my best to get some heads wobbling. I know that the right hon. Lady is a big supporter of Radio Humberside and her local BBC television service, “Look North”. I know this situation is difficult for the journalists affected. The BBC has told us that these are cost-neutral changes and that it is moving resource into digital and providing some additional resource in relation to original journalism, but this House has said many times and has effectively expressed its collective opinion that these cuts are regrettable, and it is something we will continue to discuss with the BBC.
I call the acting Chair of the Select Committee.
The Minister is correct that this is in the end a decision for the BBC, but the House will be considering a media Bill in the coming months. Will the Bill do anything to protect the essential BBC local radio services that many people beyond this House—not just in this House—find to be an important part of the broadcasting landscape?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his contribution. We are not going to protect specific parts of the BBC by primary legislation, but we have a number of important measures on radio services that we feel strongly about including in that legislation, and that includes measures on smart speakers. We want to reduce the regulatory burden on and costs for radio stations, but we also want to strengthen the protections for local news and content. Hopefully that legislation will help with some of these issues.
At a time when accountability and scrutiny in public life are more important than ever, the role of the BBC and other media outlets is so important. My local newspaper, for example, will not run any political stories, and has not really done so for many weeks now. Will the Minister consider the role of local media and why local newspapers will not run political stories?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the importance of local news reporting to the health of our democracy, and I met news publishers recently to discuss how we might support a more thriving local newspaper ecosystem. There is a range of challenges in making those publications commercially successful, but as he says, if they do not have that local content, they are fundamentally undermining their own importance in the communities they serve.
On his birthday, I call Andrew Selous.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I agree with the sentiments expressed so far. We are very well served by BBC Three Counties Radio. If I could pick out one example, Roberto Perrone’s drivetime programme is in danger of being axed, as are many other good programmes. Will the Minister use the Department’s power to have another word with the BBC? Much as I am a big fan of the BBC, I do not think it has got this one right.
I wish my hon. Friend a very happy birthday, as I am sure does the whole House. He asks us to speak again to the BBC about this matter. This issue has been running since the autumn, and the appetite of the House to raise it in the Chamber has not waned. The BBC should take that as a mark of the strength of feeling in this House and a mark of how important we, as representatives of communities across the country, think BBC radio services are.
Do tell the BBC how wonderful Radio Lancashire is. I call the shadow Minister.
The BBC’s cuts to local radio services will be a great loss to communities. I know the immense benefit that Radio Sheffield brings to my area. The BBC’s plans to redirect this resource into online local news may place the BBC in direct competition with existing local news sites. Can I press the Minister again on what she is doing to discuss the impact of these cuts with the BBC? What steps are being taken to support local journalism outlets and their employees?
The hon. Lady raises an important point about the impact of the BBC, and the care that it needs to take in relation to the impact that it can have on commercial services. We do not want the support that the BBC gets from the licence fee to be seen as something that crowds out market competition. We will consider that in the mid-term review. I thank her for her comments
I call the SNP spokesperson.
The local radio situation must cause stress for hard-working BBC staff across England, and they have my sympathy. The Minister will know about the deep disquiet among BBC staff across the countries of the UK about the fact that they have a chair in Richard Sharp whose tenure is hanging by a thread, and who is resisting calls to resign despite the clear improprieties around being given a job by a Prime Minister for whom he facilitated an £800,000 loan. What reassurances can she give to BBC staff and the general public that her party will not in the future give plum positions to people who have been involved in lavish donations, given the propriety issues that inevitably occur?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the appointment of Richard Sharp is the subject of an Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments report. We do not control the timetable for that, but it will hopefully shed some light on the appointment. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman raising concerns about the propriety of the appointment. We in DCMS believe that we ran that appointment to the letter and, as he will know as a member of the Select Committee, it was also endorsed by the Committee.