Lord Patten calls for BBC local radio U-turn


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The Independent Online

The BBC should perform a U-turn on planned cuts to local radio by putting back £10 million it had planned to axe, Lord Patten said today.

The chairman of the BBC Trust said the governing body's decision was made after "real concerns" were raised by the public.

In a speech to the Oxford Media Convention, Lord Patten said the corporation does need to make cuts, but he urged it to "look again" at plans for local radio.

He told delegates at the Said Business School at Oxford University: "While the BBC needs to reduce costs in these areas just as it does everywhere else, we agree that local and regional services in England provide something unique for audiences that can otherwise be neglected by the mainstream media.

"The BBC cannot afford to get these changes wrong.

"In total, we expect these changes to cost the BBC no more than about £10 million."

Lord Patten said the Trust wanted the "local identity" of radio stations to be protected.

Plans for local stations to share their afternoon content with regional neighbours should be scaled back, where possible, he said.

They should also be given "a bit more freedom" to protect specialist content, such as sports that are more popular in certain places, and music.

Lord Patten said newsrooms also need to be "adequately staffed".

"So we have asked the management to look again at the planned cuts to local radio," he said.

Asked where the money will be saved from, he said: "I can't tell you where the £10 million will be found.

"But £10 million out of a budget of £30 billion, even though we're not going to be flushed with cash, shouldn't be impossible."

The Trust chairman told the conference in his keynote speech he would also be asking for a re-think on plans to merge regional current affairs programmes in England into so-called "super-regions".

He said: "We want to see a plan that will preserve the regional integrity and investigative quality of this programming, which no other broadcaster provides."

A BBC spokeswoman said: "We welcome the Trust's endorsement of the majority of our Delivering Quality First proposals at this stage. We note their request for us to make some changes to our proposals in local radio and regional current affairs which we will be working on over the next two months.

"These proposals have required us to make some tough choices and we are glad that in the vast majority of cases we will be able to progress with changes we believe are necessary to ensure a future BBC that is sustainable, and able to offer the programmes and services most valued by licence fee payers."