Radio

BBC cuts to local radio are a cost we cannot afford: 'Vulnerable people rely on radio'

The government-enforced BBC funding deficit has a knock-on effect across society

A 1970s radio

Local radio services are a lifeline to so many. Image: fancycrave1 from Pixabay

In 2022 the BBC announced major cuts to its local radio services across England. The changes consist of combining shows across the network’s 39 stations – some time slots will merge shows by region, others will be broadcast across England.

The cuts aim to save £7.5m, according to the Financial Times, part of an effort to save £500m from the BBC’s overall costs. The savings are in response to the two-year freeze on funding put into place by the government in January 2022 and the December 2023 announcement that the licence fee will increase by just £10 next year. After having been frozen for two years, this means a real-terms cut to funding. The government has since revealed it is launching a review into the future funding of the BBC.

The cuts began in autumn despite widespread opposition. The move will disproportionately impact elderly people, disabled people and minority groups, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) warned.  

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Stations have been dogged by technical problems, complaints about irrelevant content and falling listener numbers. The full impact of the cuts is yet to be seen, but there’s concern vulnerable people won’t be able to access local news. “It’s not uncommon for an area to have a major incident [which locals need to be kept up to date on],” explains Kay Hallsworth, CEO of Gosport Voluntary Action, a charity which provides support for community groups. 

Hallsworth explains that the cuts could be deadly for vulnerable people: “They rely on the radio, if we don’t have local services that know the specific risk to a specific area then we’re risking lives by not being able to get the information out to them.”

Sarah Gayton, street access campaign coordinator for the National Federation of the Blind (NFBUK), echoes Hallsworth’s concern. “If you’re older, blind or visually impaired, it’s easy to flick on a radio, it’s not easy for many people to access a website with reliable local news. A lot of people don’t have wi-fi.” Ofcom estimates more than a quarter of over-75s don’t have home internet access. “There was no public consultation,” she continues. “No equality impact assessments done, and no public value test done on any of the proposed changes.”

According to research conducted by NFBUK, in some weeks certain stations are broadcasting as many as 50 fewer hours of local programming compared to January 2023, a huge reduction. A similar study from the NUJ in West Yorkshire determined that schedule changes would breach Ofcom regulations.  

A BBC spokesperson says: “We consider all editorial changes very carefully and we fully appreciate BBC Local Radio is a lifeline to many. It is why we have kept all 39 Local Radio stations across England providing local news, sport and companionship. 

“The plans we have introduced aim to maintain the distinctiveness of our local services while allowing the BBC to adapt our offer as audiences change, ensuring we remain relevant to all licence fee payers.” They added that each local station will “meet or exceed” its Ofcom requirement for locally made programming.

In some areas community-run stations are filling some of the gaps. Keri Jones, manager of the volunteer-run ThisIsAlfred community radio project, creates daily shows for Shaftesbury, Dorset. He says that
a sense of connection has been lost: “Radio should have an almost social services sort of role. They feel a warmth from connection as a human voice is really powerful.”

Given the scale of the changes, this connection will take a long time to rebuild. 

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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