Sunday, 1 March 2015

The great BBC Midlands underspend: the Birmingham Post and Mail wade in


On Birmingham streets this week
I've written about this before. You may have already seen the posts; if so, I thank you. There are links to my main blog outpourings on this at the bottom of this post. 

Some background: the Campaign for Regional Broadcasting Midlands have been lobbying hard about this for some time now; they are absolutely right. But there has been little or no serious response, let alone attempts to address the issues raised. 

I'll sum it up: The BBC Midlands region sends more money down to headquarters in London that any other region, and gets an insultingly small amount spent back locally, way less than any other region. 

This has led to a collapse in the regional broadcast sector. It has done damage. It has stunted careers and jobs growth. 

Frustrating. How do you reverse arrogant and remote corporate mindsets and actions which have, very deliberately, crippled job prospects and hobbled creativity in the region?

The Post takes a stand. And how.

All the data in this post, also displayed in the Birmingham Post and Birmingham Mail, has come from the Campaign, who have doggedly analysed BBC spending, working from the corporation's own public figures. .

It's been a very long slow process. Recently, far from improving, the situation has got even worse. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of jobs have gone. Although I'm by no means alone, I've wound up feeling like the Ancient Mariner, banging on to one and all about a perceived injustice, burying people in an avalanche of statistics. Meantime, the cuts continue, and the remaining BBC Midlands region staff, fearing for their jobs, must understandably stay silent.

Birmingham Post graphics
Well, finally, this week, the mighty Birmingham Post, and sister paper the Birmingham Mail picked up the CRBM baton and went off the deep end about this, and not in a genteel way. Over five pages, they've pulled absolutely no punches. Here's a link to the main online article, one of many. The editorial in the Post print edition is a blistering piece of work.

So. This has gone to lots of people. I understand that the Post's work has been shared and tweeted everywhere. MPs have been badgered; they have responded, positively. The Campaign for Regional Broadcasting has refurbished its site. Endorsements are coming in from the great and the good. Comments have been sought, but the Beeb is still being pretty reticent.

That said, the Post did extract a pretty bog-standard rebuttal from a BBC Spokesperson, the kind of thing they've been sending out for the past two years. Training gigs and digital developments – which have yet to materialise - Doctors, Archers, BBC WM, the Birmingham (but not really) show Peaky Blinders... like that.

Ah, but can we afford this?

One thing in the BBC spokesperson's response, quoted in the Post, stood out for me, and it goes to the heart of the whole affair. Here's the quote, taken directly from the Post:

 The 2014 spend per Licence Fee payer 
Licence fee-payers rightly expect us to operate efficiently, and it’s simply not affordable to have BBC studio facilities in every part of the country."

Not affordable? 

Interesting. It's a bit rich to airily state that it's 'not affordable' to have BBC Studio facilities everywhere in the country while excluding them from the region which contributes most to the BBC coffers

Of course, building a fully featured sound stage is not cheap; but, again, it would be a tiny fraction of the sums that flow yearly out of this region to pay for sound stages in other parts of the country. And there is little doubt, given the experiences of Manchester and London, that were such a new facility to be located in the region, as Stephen Knight has discussed, BBC-funded or otherwise, it would be fully booked.

Sound-stage, schmound-stage. What I want to see is
production, undertaken in and commissioned from the Midlands. That is absolutely not the same thing. Given that equipment costs are now a fraction of the prices of a decade ago, this is totally affordable. And as has been said, there are facilities which can be used right now. So what is really called for is a corporate effort of will from London. That might be... tricky. The Beeb is not exactly famous for admissions of errors or culpability. 

Fair is fair - let us see proportionate spending

Let's look a bit deeper. Were the BBC to spend in the Midlands in a proportionate way – like they do in the North and South of England - this is what we could see:
  • Hundreds of jobs.
  • A massive boost to the local economy – billions over a decade.
  • More and better recognition for the extraordinary music, writing, and performing talent in our region.
  • Proper career paths for talented individuals to make their way in broadcasting in the region, who now have to leave town to further their careers.
  • A re-birth of indie radio and television production, serving both the BBC and other broadcast sectors.
  • Daily national radio shows based in our region on 1Xtra, 6 Music and the Asian Network, for starters. The costs would be minuscule.
  • Better budgets for our excellent local radio professionals struggling to deliver quality output under great financial burdens.
  • That vital, essential element: a critical creative mass of different talents, bouncing off and reacting with one another.

Can you do anything? It's your licence fee, after all

From the CRBM website
Yes, you can. 

CBRM have a petition. You could sign it. 

If you're a band, or a musician, trying to get some recognition, you should sign it. It's very much in your own interests. If you want to see radio develop, on whatever platform it will mutate onto, then you should sign it too.

In other news: I heartily approve of this week's quiet announcement about the BBC signing a collaboration deal with BBCLR and Community Radio. This, if it actually happens, would be absolutely great. It would open pathways for career development. But those pathways needs to continue up to Network level. If the BBC finally unbends and does the right thing, and acknowledges the huge talent in the Midlands region and elsewhere, beyond their Network bases, the pathways will appear.

And just for the record, I have always been, and still am, a huge fan of Auntie. So are most of us. But I'm not sure it flows both ways. Auntie has simply not bothered to take a serious look at the Midlands in recent years. Well, apart from our money. That seems to matter; not much else.


Birmingham Post lead article Thursday 26 February 2015
Birmingham Mail article Friday 26 February 2015

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