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BBC LEAVES THE MIDLANDS OUT IN THE COLD

5 November 2011

The BBC Leaves the Midlands Out in the Cold

The BBC’s decision to abandon almost all television and radio production in the Midlands is causing growing anger in the region. 

Labour MP for Selly Oak Stephen McCabe has tabled an Early Day Motion to the House of Commons denouncing the decision, and calling on the BBC to reconsider its proposals and maintain TV and radio production in Birmingham. 

Speaking to the Birmingham Post, Labour  MP Gisela Stuart has said: ‘The big concern for Birmingham is that around 10% of the economy is reliant on the media, gaming, and digital services, and the BBC is the key block at the heart of this.  If the BBC weakens then we see other organisations weaken around it.’

The proposal to move out of Birmingham was published in the BBC’s Delivering Quality First document in October.

A correspondent to the Birmingham Post described the plan as ‘an act of cultural vandalism’.

Equity representative Tracey Briggs comments: ‘The people of the Midlands are entitled to better treatment from their national broadcaster, not least because they provide a very large proportion of the BBC’s licence fee revenue. All that will be left of a proud history of TV and radio production in the region will be a couple of days of Radio 4’s The Archers being recorded each month, and the half-hour daytime soap opera Doctors. As licence fee payers, we invest roughly £150 each per annum in the BBC, but all the economic benefit of our licence fee payment will benefit other regions. This is not properly fulfilling the BBC charter review for production in all regions and nations.  Moving production from Birmingham to elsewhere is just not on.’

Members of the technician’s union BECTU have been holding a weekly  demonstration outside the BBC’s Birmingham Mailbox production centre. 

BECTU has written to BBC management raising 25 key questions that haven’t been answered, showing that the plans are illogical and do not even appear to make savings.                                                       

Campaigners have come together into a ‘Save BBC Birmingham’ campaign, determined to retain television and radio production in the region. 

Under the BBC’s DQF plans, nearly all network TV production in the Midlands will cease, with the loss of popular television programmes such as Countryfile, Coast, Hairy Bikers, See Hear, The Sky at Night, Gardeners World, and Points of View.  All factual radio production will move elsewhere, including Radio 4 programmes such as Farming Today, The Food Programme, On Your Farm, Open Country, Costing The Earth and Ramblings, and Radio 2 programmes The Organist Entertains, Listen To The Band and Big Band Special.

If the plans go ahead, over 150 highly skilled jobs will be lost permanently to the region, including specialist TV and radio producers who understand the BBC’s public service remit and have the creative skills to inform, educate and entertain.

The radio and television post-production facilities and practices at the BBC’s Mailbox site are modern and cost-effective and enable a fast turnaround which other sites cannot match. BECTU also fears that with the radio studio only in use for The Archers one week each month, what is currently a first-class facility will be mothballed for most of the time, and inevitably degrade.

The staffing for the Asian Network will be halved. This will reverse the positive trend of introducing new talent to the wider BBC, and shut down a career route for the Midlands’ diverse population.

The region’s commitment to educational investment in the arts and media will be jeopardised. BBC’s ‘drama village’ making Doctors on the University of Birmingham campus may be all that’s left of an industry that the region’s young workforce aspire to enter.

Without the BBC and its support for the smaller business and freelance workers, the vision for the digital and creative economy outlined in the Digital West Midlands Regional ICT Strategy will be lost.

Among the questions submitted to the BBC by BECTU are:

  • What impact assessment has been done on how the withdrawal of the BBC will affect independent production and support companies in the region?
  • What assessment has been made regarding the loss of freelance workers in the region?
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  • What is the estimated value of the BBC's network TV and radio production to the local economy?                                         
  • Has the BBC discussed the impact of this with the relevant Council bodies, Chamber of Commerce and other relevant bodies in the region? The digital and creative economy is important to the region but without the BBC and its support for the smaller businesses of freelance workers, how can the vision outlined in the digital West Midlands regional ICT strategy be achieved?
  • Has the BBC been upfront with the University of Birmingham and other education institutions about its withdrawal from the region?
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