Mark Thompson, the BBC director-general, has defended planned cuts to local radio under the Delivering Quality First initiative, denying that local BBC stations had been “singled out or victimised” – but admitting that job losses would make the future for many stations “very tough”.
“The headline savings number for BBC English Regions is 14% – somewhat below the average for the BBC as a whole,” Thompson said, speaking at the Radio Festival in Salford, Manchester. But he conceded that, in a broadcasting sector where “budgets are traditionally far lower”, local radio’s “high fixed costs and low discretionary spend… mean that the impact on jobs will be significantly higher than that 14% overall headline suggests.”
Thompson looked to lessen the apparent severity of the planned cuts by implying that the alternative might have been worse. “At the beginning of the process,” he said, “all sorts of possible futures for BBC local radio were discussed – up to and including some kind of merger with Radio 5 Live. We rejected all of these ideas. Local radio’s strength is that it is local and that it provides a vital, lifeline service for audiences who in many cases consume no other form of radio.
“In the end, we decided to propose a package of measures which sees a concentration of our resources on key dayparts [sic] – breakfast, mid-morning, drivetime – with some sharing in the afternoon and evening.”
It was this “sharing” plan that led BBC London host Danny Baker to infer last month – pre-emptively, perhaps – that his afternoon show is to be axed.
Thompson added: “We were also determined not to salami-slice, in other words not to apply indiscriminate one-size-fits-all savings to every bit of the BBC, but to assign priorities and make choices.”
But he was directly challenged on this point by Roger Phillips, morning phone-in host on BBC Radio Merseyside – a station that is set to lose a third of its staff under Delivering Quality First. “We’re losing 15 staff out of 46 so there’s no way we can put real input into news and current affairs,” Phillips said.
“With the cuts we can’t provide quality at all. We are all different, each station is different and yet you’ve imposed these blanket cuts. It is salami-slicing.”