Living la vida local

While staff at BBC Local Radio stations wait anxiously to learn just who’ll escape the axe and for whom the ominous whistle of its approach will become the sickening thud of its impact, the BBC is calling in a consultant to advise it on the task.

Don’t get me wrong. I have some sympathy with an approach that looks for help in deciding the best way to make savings given that savings must be made. It’s just that the timing seems off, to say the least, and in staff relations and PR terms the decision is inexplicable. I am reminded of former Deputy Director General Alan Protheroe, who told a meeting of news editors at one particularly troubled time for the Corporation that while Auntie had always had the ability to shoot herself in the foot her aim was creeping higher!

These days my only connection with the BBC is as a licence payer so it is in that capacity that I’m left wondering why you bring in John Myers after you’ve announced what Delivering Quality First will mean to local output rather than enlisting his experience earlier in the process? To be fair again (old Beeb habits die hard) David Holdsworth, Controller of English Regions and the man at the top of the BBC Local Radio tree, makes the point that unlike other services there is little or no room for overhead cuts in local radio because it has to maintain 40-odd station premises. The upshot of that is that the true impact of the budget cut is greater for staff and output.

On Radio 4’s Feedback, said Controller found himself being questioned by a listener. It cannot have been coincidence that the listener was from Shropshire, where Holdworth’s BBC career began. David spoke with sincerity about how proud he was that the station was highly valued by its audience but there was at this point a chasm between his view of the service and that of the listener. David referred (more than once from memory) to BBC Local Radio’s important journalism. The listener made the point thast the station was about so much more.

Like David I am proud of having been a founding part of that station (and to have made some contribution to others) but I return to the point of my previous blog that the BBC management long ago lost sight of what made its stations special. The standardisation of the last few years opened the way for the cuts now taking place.

I couldn’t help but smile to learn that my former Shropshire colleague is turning to Myers, who was cutting his radio teeth at BBC Carlisle in my early reporting days there. He’s come a long way since then but I know he hasn’t forgotten Lamb Bank – the epitome of local broadcasting – and the listeners’ reaction when it didn’t appear. Perhaps it’s too much to hope that that early lesson might prompt him to urge a loosening of the central straitjacket when he delivers his findings.