20th March 2022
There are changes in how Cumbria will be governed in little over a year’s time that will impact Regional Television in northern North West England- and in a manner that could further reduce the amount of news-coverage that gets north of Preston: Cumbria is about to be split into two new, completely separate counties.
By May next year, the administrative county of Cumbria along with six District Councils within Cumbria- Carlisle, Eden, South Lakeland, Allerdale, Copeland borough and Barrow-in-Furness borough- will all cease to exist. They will all be replaced by two unitary authorities- Cumberland (comprising Carlisle, Allerdale and Copeland) and Westmorland and Furness (comprising Eden, South Lakeland, and Barrow in Furness). There used to be the historical counties of Cumberland and Westmorland, until they were absorbed into what became Cumbria in 1974.
The new “Cumberland” and “Westmorland” will approximate, but not cover the exact same geographical areas as the former counties of those names. For instance, Alston Moor (where I live) and a considerable part of the Eden valley east of Penrith along with Penrith itself used to be in Cumberland but these areas will now be in the new “Westmorland and Furness” county. Barrow in Furness, and Ulverston, as far east along the coast as Grange-over-Sands and Arnside and as far north as Coniston used to be part of Lancashire but these areas will soon be in the new “Westmorland and Furness” county. What is certain is that the administrative county of Cumbria will cease to exist.
However, it is trying to work out how, exactly, this will impact on Regional Television for viewers in northern North West England that is perhaps difficult. There are some positive changes, but also negative influences that mean that viewers at the northern edge of the transmission areas for BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports could get more all-round local news-coverage, or less.
My own take is that it will make Regional Television significantly worse for viewers who live north of Preston- and for the following reasons:
- The new “Cumberland” is, with the exception of the area around Millom, wholly outside the transmission areas for both ITV1 Granada Reports and BBC1 North West Tonight. There will, therefore, be less incentive for the North West Regional TV News- producers to cover Cumberland, especially as the Millom area is home to less than 10,000 people. The situation is likely to become analogous to that suffered by folk living in Ingleton, Clapham and High Bentham- in westernmost North Yorkshire- who actually receive North West Regional news-coverage which never mentions North Yorkshire!
- “Westmorland and Furness” will be a lower-population county than Cumbria, and the total number of viewers in it who get either/ both of ITV1 Granada and BBC1 North West programming will be significantly less than the number of viewers in Cumbria as a whole who get either/ both ITV1 Granada Reports and BBC1 North West Tonight. That will further help to reduce incentives for North West Regional TV Programmers to cover happenings in what is now Cumbria. At least with Cumbria- the fact that 200,000 potential Cumbrian viewers could watch BBC1 North West Tonight -increases pressure on programmers to also cover significant happenings in that part of Cumbria north of the transmission area for the benefit of Cumbrian viewers.
- The fact that there will be parts of two counties in what are the Cumbrian parts of BBC1 North West and/ or ITV1 Granada transmission areas might be expected to increase local coverage. This is because one might expect county-wide related news to double with two counties to cover, not one. However, this is unlikely to happen since both geographically and population-wise over 95% of “Cumberland” will be outside the transmission areas of both BBC1 North West and ITV1 Granada and “Westmorland and Furness” will be smaller both in terms of population and geographical area.
There are, however, some positives: Thousands of elderly folk identified with the old county of Westmorland (which was abolished in 1974) but today identify less with Cumbria. These folk may be happy about Westmorland making a come-back, albeit in a modified form including areas that were not in the old Westmorland. But viewers in Kendal, Kirkby Lonsdale, Milnthorpe and Grange over Sands will be rather less pleased if the new local government reorganisation results in less local news-coverage of their communities and none about major happenings just half an hour’s drive to the north!
For those living in the Millom area, they could end up getting absolutely no coverage specific to their “new” county of “Cumberland” as a whole- and even more extremely rare/ non-existent immediate local news! This is the case today for those who live in the western Yorkshire Dales- just inside North Yorkshire- who nonetheless receive BBC1 and ITV1 Regional News from Salford Quays! This Website will use the occasion to campaign for the Millom area, westernmost Yorkshire Dales, indeed all of what is now South Cumbria and northern Lancashire- to be moved to ITV1 Border’s transmission area. Then viewers in those areas stand a much higher chance of getting geographic and rural- appropriate local news-coverage.
A more serious threat to any good all- round Regional TV News-coverage for viewers who live north of Preston, such as it exists today, does not come from Cumbria being turned back into Cumberland and Westmorland, but from another recent Government Policy- development: The Policy of phasing out the TV Licence by 2027. A change of government after the next General Election (due by May 2024) will likely lead to that policy being axed, but one cannot rely on that happening. If the TV Licence it axed (or even if it is reduced), the BBC loses much of its funding. If the BBC loses part or all of its funding it will be forced to make economies- and the BBC Management seem to attack Regional Television programmes and production every time it is under financial pressure, it’s one of the first programming areas they cut! In the North West of England, the BBC has already axed sub-regional offices in Lancaster and Blackpool- and sold off the buildings as a consequence of economies required of the BBC during the Coronavirus Recession.
There is one way in which the BBC can be mandated not to cut- or even to improve- Regional TV in northern North West England in the face of any need to make economies. That is by designating Regional News a Core Service that the BBC MUST MAINTAIN and improve- EVEN IF it’s overall budget is cut by 50%. This requires political will in Government to amend the BBC Charter to that end.
ITV.Plc also tends to cut funding for its Regional News-services in the face of tough economic conditions, for instance the temporary merger of ITV1 Border and ITV1 Tyne Tees happened in the great recession of 2008-2009 following the global banking crash. However, ITV.Plc is more adept at responding to viewer requirements in different parts of the UK because it is in the Private Sector, and it responds quickly to commercial pressure. That said, good Regional Television is not exactly profitable for ITV.Plc, hence the requirement for an underpinning from OFCOM to ensure it maintains a minimum amount of local and regional coverage for each of its broadcast areas!
Although not the main threat to the amount of Regional TV News-coverage that gets north of Preston, it is certain that the splitting of Cumbria into two separate counties (one of which will hardly protrude into either the BBC1 North West or ITV1 Granada transmission areas) will lead to a further reduction of Immediate and Regionally Local news-coverage for viewers in Carnforth, Milnthorpe, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cartmel, and Millom along with other nearby communities.
Since the local government reorganisation in Cumbria will now go ahead, it will be for local viewers of Regional Television- and those who champion their needs- for them to pressurise Regional TV producers so viewers are informed of important news in the northern half of North West England: It will be increasingly necessary to pressurise BBC1 North West Tonight and ITV1 Granada Reports to improve the proportion of news- items from North of the River Ribble! This will probably require intervention from local MPs and from OFCOM to put pressure on local and Regional TV broadcasters which, if allowed to respond only to commercial and market pressure, would happily jettison the provision of good- quality, locally-relevant Regional TV News and Documentaries!