A small illustration of how out- of- kilter the BBC Regions for the North East and North West of England will introduce my discussion about how it can be improved. A report on BBC Look North (BBC North East and Cumbria) covered how a victim of burgulary in Kendal (South Cumbria) sleep-walks and goes around checking the locks each night after a young burgular from the Chorley area (South Lancashire) stole her car from outside her home and took money from her neighbour. THIS was North West news- concerning people who live in the BBC North west’s transmission area but it was not broadcast on BBC North West Tonight at all. It featured in BBC Look North, which is seen in the North East of England, northern North Yorkshire and northern Cumbria. Neither Kendal- and certainly not Chorley- are in the transmission area. BBC Look North aired this news about the sleep-walking burgulary victim from Kendal because people in the north of Cumbria- who receive BBC North East/ Cumbria output- might be interested in what goes on in the south of their own county: Full marks for that!
But would not people living in South Cumbria expect the BBC in the North West- which is broadcast to Kendal (and broadcast to Chorley) to cover such a news item as burglary leaving a woman traumatised with her car stolen? The young perpetrator was from Lancashire and was sentenced to jail- yet neither the victim nor the perpetrator (who both live not far from the geographical centre of the North West- the victim a bit to the north, the perpetrator to the south) featured on BBC North West Tonight, but did feature on BBC Look North (which, incidentally mainly covers the North East and for 90% of folk watching Look North a burglary involving both a North West victim and perpetrator would be of little concern to them).
There is a need for resources (and news) to be prioritised to the areas that need to see the news that applies to them, that they might be interested in. BBC North West is not really capable of doing this because relatively sparsely populated North Lancashire and South Cumbria will always play second fiddle to the very heavily populated conurbations of Greater Manchester and Merseyside. In terms of Regional Television per capita (of the population) the North West is amongst the most poorly served in the country.
Now communities in the North of England, far from London, function best if money can be spent on them in a whole host of ways. This applies to spending on Public Services per capita, it applies when businesses move in and invest heavily in the local infrastructure and in training up the local population to work. If the Government spends more on Infrastructure- more roads, railways and housing then there is work and more people move to the area. More Police to keep northern communities safe and to keep crime rates down enhance the quality of life, brings inwards investment. This is not an argument for Socialism because high taxes on businesses suck the life-blood from communities if businesses are forced to close: The Coronavirus Recession will make it hard (but not impossible) for the Government to find more money for the North, the Markets will stand for only so much Government borrowing. However Wealth Taxes are less economically harmful than other forms of taxation and could raise serious money. Privatisation of the railways- selling off the rail-track and rolling stock to private rail operators, though unpopular, could raise much- needed £ billions to help the Economy recover.
Good, and well- funded Regional and local television is no different. If the BBC were to double their spending on Regional Television and there was a new BBC North West Region covering just Lancashire, Cumbria and the Isle of Man it would bring further enhancements to the quality of life in the Region. That’s because the Regional News would be much more direct and relevant to its viewers. It would also provide jobs and opportunities to wherever the new TV base would be- Deepdale Retail Park in Preston or White Cross Industrial Estate in Lancaster; that in turn will bring in news- reporters and presenters who live in (and who have affinity with) the local area.
So how much is needed to greatly improve Regional News coverage across the North West. Another £10 million per annum would certainly pay for a new BBC Region covering Lancashire (including Wigan, Southport and Bolton, the citizens of which would consider themselves to be “Lancastrian”), South and West Cumbria and the Isle of Man. A further £4 million would pay for opt-outs within this new BBC North West Region to provide specially localised news for the Isle of Man and another to provide specially localised news for Cumbria and North Lancashire. Raising this money would involve increasing the Annual TV License by no more than seventy pence (and those over 75 years old still get to keep their “Free” TV Licenses). Anomalies like BBC North East reporting on events deep into North West England whilst BBC North West does not report it will be history!
However, most people consider that they pay enough for the BBC’s services, it has now gone up to £157.50 per household. For the purposes of ensuring impartiality, the BBC cannot be paid for directly out of taxation, but the Government could raise the Income Tax threshold- the Tax free Allowance to £12,600 per annum so that most workers are £20 better off per year. The Government could cut Foreign Aid a little to do this. This would then create political space to increase the BBC License fee by a pound or two- with the imperative placed on the BBC to create a new BBC Region for North West England and a couple more new BBC Regions to cover the North and North East of Scotland (which, at present have their “local” news covering all of Scotland!).
The ideal BBC North West news would be mainly Manchester/ Liverpool/ Cheshire with some 10% overlap to North Wales, Staffordshire, Shropshire and Derbyshire to the south and overlap to Lancashire/ Cumbria in the north. This would be the format for the old BBC North West area now just serving Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire. The viewers there would be happy with that. The new BBC North West area would then give 90% coverage to Lancashire, Cumbria and the Isle of Man with just 10% overlap coverage of Manchester and Liverpool to the south; the opt-outs would (of course) focus heavily on the Isle of Man and Cumbria/ North Lancashire: This too, will lead to the diverse (and mainly rural) communities of northern and central North West England being much better covered.
Boris Johnson’s Conservative Government was elected on a promise to revitalise the Regions- the North West, the North East and Wales- Regions with high social deprivation were those the Government had in mind. High investment into local communities will bring about economic regeneration, as does putting communities on the map with more localised news- coverage. Perhaps Boris Johnson’s Government could be encouraged to put a rocket under the Metropolitan and London-centric BBC, with strong conditions attached to the BBC Charter for getting an extra £40 million per annum from license fee-payers with regards improving Regional Television in the North West, the North East and the North and North East of Scotland.
On the contrary, social deprivation is increased where towns in the North West are overlooked, ignored and marginalised. A devastating image of the worst of this is rough cracked streets with grass growing in it, boarded up shops except the odd Charity Shop and a Bet Fred Betting Shop: The centre-piece of the Grim Scene is an elderly lady, a young woman or a bespectacled vulnerable autistic man being beaten up savagely and getting a life-threatening “Kick in the ‘Heed” -and being bounced off the hard, hard pavement by 20 year old yobs (normally male and unemployed). Think of the victim of the car burglary I have already mentioned: Ignored communities starved of attention, starved of funding for Public Services, businesses taxed out of existence leads to deprivation and (ultimately) crime. Think of Barrow in Furness, Blackpool, and (in the example described) Kendal where violent crimes have been on the rise.
Good local news-coverage is so important. It fosters the sense of community, puts the area on the map and also helps discourage crime. If a photo-fit of a violent criminal caught on CCTV is aired on a popular, liked (because it is relevant) Regional Television Programme the chances are that some-one will know who the criminal is and will call the Police and say “I just saw the photo from CCTV of the robbery in Morecambe on North West Tonight. That looks remarkably like David Walmsley* from the Ridge Estate in Lancaster!”. David Walmsley would then be apprehended and punished, and the victims compensated. Other criminals will be deterred from acts of robbery or violence if they think that they will be caught and punished. So good Regional News, as well as a well- funded local Police force, really do help to reduce the crime and violence that blights so many neglected towns and cities across the North of England.
Write to your MP to suggest the Government put pressure on the BBC to bring about improvements to Regional Television in the North West. The address for all Members of Parliament is:
House of Commons, LONDON. SW1A 0AA.
- David Walmsley is a fictitious name for the purpose of illustration