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BBC Local Radio Services

Volume 736: debated on Thursday 20 July 2023

We recognise the strength of feeling about the importance of BBC local services and we remain disappointed that the BBC is planning to reduce parts of its local radio output. This is a matter for the BBC, but Ministers have raised our concerns about the BBC’s plans previously, and we will discuss this issue with the interim chair and the director general at the next opportunity.

I think that we all thought that digital technology was meant to expand choice. However, in recent times, we have seen post office, bank and rail ticket office closures, and the BBC is using the same arguments to justify the managed decline of local radio. I saw today that we have been told by the BBC that it wants to reach 50% of the population with its TV, radio and online services after its digital plan is carried out. But I have seen in the annual report that it says that it is already at 50%, so why is it using that as a justification for the vandalism of local radio?

The BBC obviously needs to take account of the fact that more and more people are accessing content online and digitally, and therefore it has decided to invest more in that area. However, it is one that is already well provided for, particularly in the area of local news. It is important that the BBC does not lose sight of the fact that there are still a significant number of people who rely on traditional broadcasting and value local radio. As I have made clear, the Government are disappointed by the BBC’s decision to reduce local radio output.

As you know, Mr Speaker, local radio is such a lifeline to many of the elderly, vulnerable and isolated people in our communities. I wonder whether the Minister has a view on what the words “public service” in the BBC’s public service remit actually mean. Should that not include reaching everyone with local news and information, not just those who are digitally enabled?

As I said earlier, many people still value local radio and will regret and, indeed, be very concerned about the reduction in local radio output that the BBC has proposed, particularly in the evenings and at weekends. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will take advantage of the opportunity that she has through chairing the extremely important Committee overseeing the BBC to raise that matter with the director-general again, as indeed will we.

I would say that the BBC is very good at showing empty chairs, but there will now be empty studios if we are not careful, and we certainly do not want to see the end of Radio Lancashire.