The BBC, DQF and the lost opportunity

D.Q.F. (delivering quality first) was announced last week across the BBC.

A man with a beard um’d and er’d, told us some bad things then chortled inexplicably. Our local boss then had to, through reluctant if not quite gritted teeth, break the news.

There’s a lot of people going to have to leave, all but one of the specialist programmes are being axed and for 12 hours a day BBC local radio stations will be empty. The new times will be 6am to 6pm apart from sport while it lasts. We were reminded, rightly, that alot of private and public sector organisations are going through the same pain.

The biggest social enterprise in the world?

The BBC IS defacto a social enterprise. It trades through a poll tax and worldwide sales but it is the “social good” element that is lacking. Yes it could be argued that the BBC does social action programmes, investigates wrongdoing, gives us impartial news, entertainment, weather, a huge hulking website, iPlayer etc etc. But the commercial sector do most of that now anyway with less resources.

But what does the BBC really do to further social good in local communities? A good station like ours is out there in the community and we throw open our doors every day to licence fee payers. But this is because of an energetic and passionate management and staff not a BBC wide directive, not a BBC culture of openness (there isn’t one) and not because they give us a budget.

No, all the things my station does locally in the field happen only because of the management and staff going the extra mile to connect with people locally on behalf of the BBC. How could any BBC top manager know what we do? So they assume all they get for their BBC buck is some (in their view no doubt) programmes that don’t meet the “quality threshold.” Don’t misunderstand me here. There are some parts of our output threatened that I don’t understand and can’t really listen to. That in some ways maybe fail a quality threshold BUT as part of an eclectic mix on the station they are all important. One person’s Sony Award Winner is another person’s switch off moment.


So here’s the numbers. 86% of BBC local radio “reach” (how many listen) is between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. No surprise there then. So we can ditch the other 14% right? NO! They are the most vulnerable group of listeners. I am not going to patronise our audience but I sometimes answer the phone calls from people just calling for a chat, to tell you something happening on their street or to ask for a song or some advice. People of all ages who through circumstance and fate live alone and like the company of their local radio station.

These changes to local radio (the ditching of local evening programmes etc) will save a pittance relatively… click here to see the BBC’s accounts for 2010 and 2011. The savings planned in BBC local TV and Radio are equal to less than 20% of the GROWTH in BBC commercial income in 2011. Yes that’s right. One FIFTH of the GROWTH in INCOME!!!

So what the hell is going on here?

The BBC is cutting back on funding to the ONLY area of their business that actually deals with licence fee payers every day in a human and real way. We go and talk to them, they come in and talk to us, we retweet them, we chat on facebook with them. There is no other part of the BBC that does anything like the engagement we do. These proposed changes are taking away that last remaining human part of the BBC.

Why oh why oh why

How come that (probably) the biggest social enterprise in the world doesn’t look closely at the opportunities right in front of it’s eyes in local radio. The partnerships are there for the taking that could change people’s lives. Widen their horizons and aspirations. It’s not just young people either. Older people who are not well served by the media (other than in local radi0) could be a part of it.

They could use the BBC to improve their skills or just to get involved. Instead of leaving 40 plus stations empty 12 hours a day why not use those facilities for the greater good? This requires vision which funnily enough you don’t find alot of when you are talking to tele people. (Joke alert.)

What are you going on about again?

The one place that most people can see their BBC pound being spent and affecting their lives is BBC local radio. Where I work, a huge amount is done to engage and assist local community groups and the public sector too. This work could run so much deeper and it’s impact be so much wider but the lack of vision in today’s announcement for BBC local radio kills even what we do now stone dead.

Local radio also is the one place at the BBC where an open minded management team (we have that but many don’t) can give someone a chance to create content, challenge themselves and possibly contribute to output in some way. How many people got their first taste of the media in local radio? Slamming this door shut on so many young people at this time, for this amount of money is just crazy. No other word for it. I would spend more now, open our doors, reach out to social enterprises with a real vision of what a future BBC could look like.

A big massive lever

The BBC through local radio could act as an enabler, as a bringer together and a big massive lever to help communities come together and solve their problems. It’s an organisation that’s funded by everybody and it has (in my view) a responsibility to do this.

It’s like Lord Beard of the BBC manor has decided that he doesn’t want the peasants coming into his grounds anymore so he builds a fence and keeps them out. As an aside it does seem depressingly obvious why the poorer, unconnected people who listen to BBC local radio get their services cut while Radio 4 who’s listeners are wealthier, better connected and very able to complain remain largely untouched in budget terms.

Are you bored yet?

One example that’s close to home. A few months ago there was a meeting in Preston called Unconvention. Creative peeps, musos, the public sector all met up and talked about how they could help Lancashire improve the creative economy here. I posted a blog asking if anyone wanted to continue the conversation at BBC Radio Lancashire. Two days later 60 or 70 people showed up. We are still working on some of the ideas we discussed that night but those connections and those people are only there because I am happy to do the work in my own time along with an amazing group of young people that help me on BBC Introducing.

So you gather I could go on and on here.

To close, just take a look at the BBC Accounts and be gobsmacked at just how much money there is sloshing around.

A lack of vision, a lack of ideas and a lack of social responsibility is not something I would expect from the BBC.

That’s why I ask you and anyone who cares about keeping the BBC vibrant and open locally should contact these people in as many ways as they can… just click here. or call 0800-0680-116 … calls are free from most landlines … however, some networks and mobile operators will charge for these calls.

Post this and retweet as much as you can please… not only should the cuts not happen but someone should look at what the BBC is locally and get some real vision and energy in there.

3 thoughts on “The BBC, DQF and the lost opportunity

  1. I will post this brilliant piece of writing on our forum. .

    Well done to Sean McGinty.

    Please also sign this petition.

    To Chris Patten, Chair of The BBC Trust and Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC,

    On Thursday 6 October 2011 Mark Thompson unveiled a number of proposals to cut spending at the corporation to respond to freezing of the licence fee.One of these proposals is to reduce programming on BBC Local radio to peak time broadcasts. During the afternoon the stations will amalgamate with other stations. Between 7pm and 10pm there will be national programming shared by every station.

    This is devastating news for anyone who values their BBC Local radio station for what it is and what it should be.If these proposals are implemented BBC local radio will be damaged beyond repair and once diluted and destroyed it will be almost impossible to reclaim. BBC local radio has always been at the bottom of the foodchain and is almost underfunded.It does not deserve to become a victim of this attempt to economise.

    BBC local radio must be shown respect by those who manage it, they are after all only temporary custodians of it. Their value is to react to the days news both national and local and provide the opportunity for listeners to have their say to local MPs and representatives of councils etc as they are put on air, BBC local radio is very interactive in its nature and many listeners rely upon it as a point of social contact. It is also an invaluable source of local information and news.It also acts as a parish notice board for communities and it gives considerable coverage to local charities and voluntary groups. BBC Introducing is at the heart of BBC local radio and gives a platform to local bands and musicians.

    BBC local radio is part of our democracy at a grass roots level and to damage it will be to damage our democracy.

    We the undersigned, value BBC Local Radio and hope that you continue to respect it and protect it as a valuable part of Our BBC. The role of the BBC at a local level is to provide a public service and if it is reduced to a limited service and networked it will be very damaging and will would more than likely spell the end of its life as a broadcasting medium. We come from across the country, including our capital, but are united in support of BBC local radio.

    • Will share the links and thanks for the kind comments. We can win this because it makes no sense to do this to BBC local radio and I can assure anyone reading this that this is not just about specialist and evening programmes. It is about a huge loss of journalists too.

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