During a pandemic, lockdown and unprecedented economic crisis, the BBC’s local current affairs programmes are more important than ever. So I was concerned to hear that some of these programmes are ‘under review’. I have sent this letter to Stephanie Marshall, Head of BBC West and South West, stating my support for this important strand of the BBC’s work.
Head of BBC West and South West
22 June 2020
Dear Ms. Marshall,
We are writing to you regarding our concerns over the BBC’s current review into regional programming, and to urge against cuts to local political and current affairs reporting.
The BBC’s local investigative reporting and political debate programmes perform an essential role. We understand and appreciate why certain programmes have been suspended during the ongoing Coronavirus crisis and pay tribute to your local news teams that have endeavoured to cover events in our region on Spotlight and Points West.
However, we understand a date has not yet been confirmed for when programmes such as the award-winning Inside Out and Sunday Politics will resume, and that their future is now ‘under review’. We would like to take this opportunity to pledge our support for the future of the programmes and ask for clarity on your plans for regional political reporting.
Too often, politics is seen as remote; important issues confined to a Westminster bubble – but it is our job and yours to prove that that is not the case. It is critical that our local councils are scrutinized and held accountable, but also given a voice. Our local reporters, who live and work in the community, provide invaluable insight and analysis into local decision making and its impact on residents across the region.
These BBC programmes provide agenda-setting reporting, as well as a platform for MPs, councillors, and candidates to highlight issues and debate ideas, within a regional context. For example, an Inside Out South West investigation shone a light into serious failings at North Devon District Hospital; and an Inside Out West investigation into the exploitation of Amazon delivery drivers featured across national BBC programming and in national newspapers. It is essential the BBC guarantee such a platform exists in regional programming.
The BBC’s regional political programme has undergone various alterations to its format over the years, but its mantra has always remained – ‘From Downing Street, to your street.’ We would encourage you to remember this and the crucial service you provide to your viewers across the country.
We appreciate that the BBC is under significant financial strain at present. Coronavirus is an unprecedented challenge, and the hostility of the Conservative Government has seen the subsidy for free over-75s TV license scrapped. However, we are opposed to cuts to vital local reporting.
We therefore strongly urge any review to consider these facts and once again, request details on your commitment to regional reporting in the South West.
Thangam Debbonaire, MP for Bristol West
CC: Ken McQuarrie, BBC Director of Nations & Regions; Helen Thomas, Head of BBC England; and BBC Director General Tony Hall.