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Broadcasting stars call for re-think on privatisation of BBC radio

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6 November 2016

A long list of top BBC radio professionals and luminaries have had a letter published in the Sunday Times calling on the government and BBC to scale down proposals to outsource 60 per cent of radio output. The letter says the tendering process will be overly bureaucratic, diverting funds away from programme making, and will put at risk public service broadcasting.

Will the Archers or Women's Hour go the same way as Bake Off if BBC plans go ahead? If you care about the future of radio come along to a joint-unions meeting in Parliament in Committee Room 9 at 18.00 on Wednesday 16 November. More details on the NUJ's events diary.
The letter states:
As radio professionals, we are extremely worried about the proposal (in the draft BBC Charter and Agreement) to put 60 per cent of BBC national radio output out to competitive tender. Over the past 20 years BBC Radio has gradually increased external commissioning from zero to around 20 per cent of output.  This gradual increase has fostered evolution while maintaining stability, allowing BBC Radio to sustain its international reputation for excellence.  The proposal to increase competition to 60 per cent by 2022 threatens severe damage to that excellence.

The BBC Trust advised the government that "There are clear risks to public value if competition is extended too quickly given the still limited scale of the radio supply market (the BBC being the only significant commissioner in the UK of Independent radio content).  A large or rapid reduction in in-house production could put public value significantly at risk."

The proposal as it stands would mean an extra 3,000 hours of output being put out to tender every year. This is poor value for money: the cost of commissioning-related administration will increase, but money spent on actual programmes will be cut, squeezing radio budgets that both external and in-house producers already find barely adequate. It makes no sense to spend less on making programmes while spending more on the cost of commissioning them. This sets bureaucracy above creativity.

Furthermore, the inevitable large fluctuations in commissioning will imperil both BBC in-house production – not least its role as training ground for the wider radio industry – and smaller independent production companies.  Long-term planning will be extremely difficult and the resulting increase in the casualisation of staff will further endanger programme quality.  

We urge the government to reconsider the present proposal and approve a significantly slower change to protect the interests of BBC licence fee payers.

Guardian report:  BBC stars criticise radio commissioning plan as 'threat to excellence': proposed increase in competitive tendering for content will squeeze programme budgets, warn Andrew Marr, Jarvis Cocker and Joan Bakewell

Dame Jenny Abramsky
Dame Joan Bakewell
Sir John Tusa
Prof Jim Al-Khalili
Nikki Bedi
Jarvis Cocker
Richard Coles
Sheila Dillon
Dr Kevin Fong
Frances Fyfield
Misha Glenny
Robin Ince
Paul Jackson
Dr Heather Jones
Suzy Klein
Kirsty Lang
Andrew McGregor
Maria Margaronis
Andrew Marr
Prof Mark Miodownik
Aasmah Mir
Roger Mosey
Libby Purves
Sean Rafferty
Nick Rankin
Tom Robinson
Martin Sixsmith
Francis Spufford
Sean Street
Tom Sutcliffe
Fiona Talkington
Laurie Taylor
Geoff Watts
Peter White
John Wilson
Julian Worricker

Tags: , bbc, radio, outsourcing, privatisation, charter renewal, broadcasting, love it or lose it, parliament uk