BBC to slash local news programmes to save Panorama

Current affairs show Inside Out is hardest hit as regional newsrooms suffer 40 per cent cuts

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The Independent Online

The BBC's current affairs show Inside Out has been made the victim of brutal cuts to the organisation's regional newsrooms, while the flagship show Panorama is allocated an increase in budget.

The popular show will be hardest hit as local newsrooms lose 40 per cent of their budget. Instead of 11 news "sub-operations" the BBC will run just four, in Manchester, London, Birmingham and the West Country.

"We feel well and truly turned over to be honest," said one BBC journalist. "There is a strong feeling that we've been sidelined from negotiations over savings because we haven't got a strong lobbying force in the capital."

Under changes introduced in its Delivering Quality First strategy, which sets out £700m in savings, the organisation has been forced to identify cuts of 20 per cent in its total budget.

In an address to journalists last week, the director of BBC News, Helen Boaden, said Inside Out, which has been responsible for a number of exclusives since starting in 1992, would take heavy cuts because it was considered less of a priority than the local news programmes screened after the BBC Six O'Clock News.

"The decision to protect the 6.30 [pm] bulletins in the regions has come at some cost to the BBC One regional current series, Inside Out," said Ms Boaden. "We expect each region to retain a smaller team for Inside Out and at times, we expect output to be shared across regions. We're also imposing a significant cut to the budgets of Inside Out though we hope to ringfence money for them to continue to do investigations and the big stories like the economy."

The sharing of regional programming is a sensitive issue which will provoke a viewer backlash, some journalists believe. "The decision flies in the face of both the BBC's renewal character and programming remit," said one. "Who in Manchester wants to watch a local current affairs show about issues in Leeds? Viewers will turn off in droves and soon we'll be being told we're underperforming. It's a joke."

Areas such as Newcastle, Norwich and Southampton, which were once regional news hubs, are now being referred to as "floaters", leaving the bulk of current affairs programming to be made in the four chosen newsrooms.

The programme has achieved an exceptionally high viewer appreciation index of 83 per cent and average audiences of 3.3 m are often greater than those for Panorama.

Inside Out presenters include Tony Livesey in the North-west and Matthew Wright in London.

A BBC spokeswoman described DQF as a "tough settlement" but said that the local news programmes at 6.30pm drew a large audience. "That's what we've chosen to prioritise," she said. "We do recognise it's tough but something has to give."

In July, BBC director general Mark Thompson reiterated the importance of the BBC's investigative reporting, praising a Panorama episode which uncovered "appalling abuse of patients at the Winterbourne View in Bristol".

Inside out: The best scoops

Plymouth paedophile ring

'Inside Out South West' exposed Vanessa George, the nursery worker who sexually abused children in her care. She was jailed for at least seven years for swapping images of the abuse with two other paedophiles Colin Blanchard and Angela Allen.

Assisted suicide 'confession'

Veteran presenter Ray Gosling admitted smothering a former lover who was dying of Aids on 'Inside Out East Midlands', reigniting the debate on assisted suicide. It led to a murder investigation, although Mr Gosling later admitted wasting police time.

Sterilisation of drug addict

A 38-year-old heroin addict is revealed on 'Inside Out London' as Britain's first user to accept money from a US charity to undergo an NHS sterilisation operation provoking outrage from drugs campaigners.

Negligence in the NHS

An untrained agency nurse, Violetta Aylward, is revealed by 'Inside Out West' mistakenly switching off the life support machine of patient Jamie Merrett, leaving him with severe brain damage.


The flagship show has been allocated an increase in budget, despite average viewing figures often being lower than Inside Out