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Local Radio

Volume 527: debated on Thursday 28 April 2011

16. If he will discuss with representatives of the BBC Trust future provision of daytime local radio services; and if he will make a statement. (52642)

No discussions have been held with the BBC Trust on the future of local radio, and nor are we planning any such discussions. However, this issue was the subject of a recent lengthy debate in the House, and we urge the BBC to take account of the views raised by many hon. Members.

It is absolutely right that BBC operational independence remains, but the BBC Trust needs to understand that when so much money is spent on over-inflated BBC manager and presenter salaries, particularly those imposing super-injunctions, cutting excellent local radio stations, such as BBC Stoke, which are so vital to community identity, is simply not acceptable.

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. Had that statement been made by a Conservative, it would have been seen as an unwarranted attack on the BBC. However, I am glad that there is cross-party agreement on concerns about the level of BBC salaries, even if he has ruled out further appearances on the Andrew Marr programme.

Of the 40 BBC local radio stations, BBC Radio Merseyside is the most listened to outside London. We know that the Secretary of State has shown his passion for local media in his promotion of local television. What are he and the Minister doing specifically to ensure that 24-hour BBC radio programming continues?

This is the second time this month that the hon. Lady has praised BBC Radio Merseyside in the House. I hope that she is reaping the benefits as a result. As I have said, it is not for the Government to tell the BBC what to do. However, my understanding is that some of these reforms, which are only proposals—and I genuinely think that the BBC does listen to hon. Members’ views—are driven more by concerns about content than concerns about saving money.

Is the Minister saying that Coventry and Warwickshire radio, which provides a valuable local service in the Coventry area, will not be amalgamated with Radio 5 Live? Can I take it from his answer that that is what he is saying?

What the hon. Gentleman can take from my answer is that the BBC is making a series of proposals that would need to be approved by the BBC Trust, and that I know from my own campaigning to save 6Music that the views of hon. Members can have some influence on BBC decisions.

I understand what the Minister is saying about it being for the BBC Trust to make decisions about how to cut and organise services, but will he send out a message loud and clear to the BBC Trust that it should not be cutting BBC local radio, which is listened to in Cornwall by more people than listen to BBC Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3 or Radio 4?

I think that my hon. Friend, in her inimitable way, has sent out a message loud and clear to the BBC Trust.

We did, indeed, have an excellent debate in Westminster Hall on this subject the other week. Does the Minister agree that in Corsham, Melksham, Winsley, Holt and across rural Wiltshire people appreciate that in BBC local radio they have programming that gets out of the cities and reflects the varied interests of people in the countryside of our fine country?

My hon. Friend made similar points in the debate at the beginning of April, and again I hope that he has reaped the rewards. That debate was also an important opportunity to congratulate him on his then forthcoming nuptials, although I am not on top of them enough to know whether they have now occurred—[Laughter.]