Reports of possible cuts to BBC local news, politics and current affairs programming in England are very concerning. Over the weekend, The Guardian reported that a review was now underway that put question marks over the future of the flagship BBC regional current affairs show Inside Out and the weekly regional political shows, both popular and enjoyable viewing for many of us.
The BBC has a unique and valued place in our national life and in our local communities. At around £13 per month, it represents excellent value for money with its range of news, politics, current affairs, drama, entertainment, education and more across its television, radio and online platforms. Regional and local coverage is a vital and integral part of that mix.
Many of us value the BBC’s regional news coverage, reporting on key local stories and events and presenting a local slant on the national issues of the day. Critically, this local news is covered by BBC journalists who know their patches and who understand the communities they report on, which itself becomes a key ingredient of the quality, value and importance of this coverage.
The BBC’s weekly Sunday regional political show will be watched by many LabourList readers. These regional political shows help to hold those in power to account as well as covering the key political issues of the day in a way that explores local implications. For example, regionalised coverage of the Brexit process in the Midlands – highlighting implications for local industry and employers – has brought to life some of the critical points and arguments in a much more relatable way.
Like many, I enjoy the BBC’s national political coverage, particularly Politics Live, The Westminster Hour and other TV and radio shows, but the BBC’s regional political shows are a healthy counterbalance to the Westminster- and London-dominated national coverage. The range of guests on the regional shows includes ministers and MPs as well as council and local government leaders, police commissioners, and other regional figures from a range of sectors (including, until January, MEPs).
This breadth, reaching beyond Westminster parliamentarians, helps to widen debates, introducing different perspectives beyond the main parties’ national lines and positions. These shows, under their various names over the years, have never overlooked their important role in holding politicians to account. I know from experience that the questions put to studio guests are informed and challenging, always reflecting the direct concerns of viewers.
Inside Out, reported to have already had its autumn series cut, is an excellent current affairs documentary. It explores important regional and local issues in detail, based on real life stories and with a sharp investigatory edge. Over the years, Inside Out has given important profile to issues of social unfairness like homelessness or issues where a wider and urgent public debate is needed, such as social care. It is a show with a real relevance and a far-reaching impact on the issues that it has explored.
During this terrible Covid-19 pandemic, local and regional BBC coverage has been of real importance. Local BBC news coverage and radio programming has helped give an important local clarity to events. It has offered a sense of reassurance in places, and played an important role in the wider community response and support initiatives seen across the country. The response by local BBC stations to the Covid-19 pandemic has shown the BBC at its best.
It would be a regrettable step if the BBC’s review did see regional and local news, politics and current affairs output reduced or cut. This content is valued by many; it supports important efforts to hold those in power to account and shines a much-needed light on key local issues. In doing so, this content underpins the importance of an effective national broadcaster’s engagement with local communities across the country.
We shouldn’t see the BBC’s regional content as just of regional or local concern. These programmes make an important contribution to national debate, supporting the BBC’s unique and important place in our national life. If anything, the BBC should be exploring how to put more resources into regional and local content.