The BBC is looking to cut its local news output across England in order to reduce costs, with both the award-winning Inside Out series of investigative programmes and regional political debate shows potentially facing the chop.
Inside Out, which broadcasts 11 different local current affairs shows in a primetime slot on BBC One, was due to return in September, but the autumn series has now been cancelled. Bosses accept that the show’s entire future is now in question as part of a review of all regional programming in England.
Although Inside Out is made on a relatively small budget, the regional current affairs programmes have consistently performed well at industry awards for their investigations, with stories also being well read on the BBC website. The slot – the last remaining major regional current affairs show on British television – has also been a training ground for many would-be journalists based outside London to get a break in the industry, with former staff now working on high-profile national BBC programmes such as Panorama.
The future of the BBC’s regional political debate programmes shown on Sunday mornings is also being considered as part of the review, with the corporation needing to consult regulator Ofcom on changes to its operating licence to enable them to take place.
“Slap bang in the middle of the biggest crisis the UK has face for years, the BBC has pulled up the drawbridge on regional current affairs,” said one Inside Out employee. “They say it is ‘Covid-related’ but the nation is busy going back to work and it is perfectly possible to cover these stories with proper social distancing measures in place. Aside from the local news there is now no regional magazine covering this story in depth and no local political discussion on a Sunday.”
The public broadcaster has previously said it will need to make a further £125m of spending cuts as a result of the coronavirus pandemic hitting commercial revenue and licence fee payment. Although England is facing a reduction in current affairs coverage, BBC investment in current affairs programmes in the UK’s other nations has been substantial, with Scotland recently gaining its own dedicated television channel.
Despite the difficult circumstances, regional television news bulletins across England have performed strongly during the pandemic, attracting high audiences for regional perspectives on the coronavirus lockdown, while the BBC’s local radio stations have become hubs for community support.
Sally Joynson, chief executive of industry group Screen Yorkshire, said she would be asking the BBC for more details on the proposed changes and the impact on jobs, adding: “For a region like Yorkshire that has had a very long track record in journalism and current affairs we are very keen to retain that expertise and those skills in the region.
“Inside Out remains consistently strong in terms of audience figures. Tony Hall on Sunday was talking about the importance of nations and regions representation, but it’s very concerning that one of the few remaining programmes that delivers on that agenda is under review. This isn’t just about Yorkshire; it’s about regional broadcasting across the country.”
A BBC spokesperson said the corporation needed to prioritise its resources and would keep the shows under review, adding: “Separately we are also taking a thorough look at what we do in England. This is driven by the BBC’s significant financial challenges and efforts to learn lessons from the Covid-19 crisis. No decisions have been taken on the future of any of our content or services.”