13th July 2023
Regional TV, when it is localised and relevant to a particular area provides a great function for local viewers: Viewers are informed of new job-opportunities in their area, they are warned about violent criminals on the loose in their community, they are warned of dangerous or unpleasant weather or motorway/ highway congestion if they go out and about. Above all, viewers can also be told about nice places to visit, nearby festivals and shows and they can get the low-down on what has been happening across the local area and the wider region. Then there is also a weather-forecast at the end of the programme so that folk know what the weather is likely to be like in their area and so they can plan their day or their week-end accordingly: I.e. Shall I mend the roof this week-end?
In view of all this information Regional TV provides for a viewer, plus the friendly face of household News- anchors like Lucy Meacock (from ITV Granada Reports) and Roger Johnson (from BBC North West Tonight), a reassurance and constant- presence through difficult times like the Covid-19 Pandemic, it would be right to designate the provision of Regional TV as a Public Service that needs to be funded properly in order to provide a good service to every viewer in the land.
This is particularly relevant for more northern parts of North West England such as northern Lancashire and South Cumbria, as well as the Isle of Man, where 70 to 80% of news-coverage from the Regional TV News- services is about towns and cities along the M62 Corridor or to the south of it. At a minimum, the BBC need to be required to provide bespoke Regional TV programming for Lancashire and South & West Cumbria, and separate bespoke Regional TV programming for the Isle of Man (inasmuch as the Channel Islands receive).
Unfortunately, the BBC left to its own decisions on what should be spent on what sorts of programming will not provide more funding for more BBC Regions, not least when it is under financial pressure. Two BBC1 Regional TV services in the South and East of England were axed just before Christmas 2022 to save money, so it does not look like the BBC will be providing Lancashire and South Cumbria with it’s own BBC1 Regional news, let alone a bespoke Regional TV service for the Isle of Man!
Legislation passed through Parliament is the only way to make the BBC, the original raison d’êtré of which was to provide high-quality news and documentaries relevant to all viewers as stipulated by the BBC Royal Charter, provide more BBC1 Regions so that all parts of the UK have access to local, relevant Regional TV programming. This can be done by changing the BBC Royal Charter to stipulate that the BBC must spend a minimum of (say) £300 million annually on Regional TV, increase the number of BBC1 Regions to twenty in England plus five in Scotland, two in Wales plus Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and Channel Islands (that’s 30 BBC Regions). The BBC could also be required to provide a minimum of at least 90 minutes each day of the year, except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. To enable the BBC to do this they would be able to have local lotteries, raffles and have local business sponsorship (not adverts) to fund Regional TV services.
Some things the BBC provides is not Public- service but entertainment: Films, East Enders, US Talk shows, Westerns. The truth is that folk have a plethora of different mediums to get entertainment and films in 2023- i.e., from You Tube, Netflix, Amazon Prime. This is not why the BBC has a special status getting money from a TV Licence fee or what the BBC Royal Charter stipulates that the BBC should prioritise over all else.
Of course, there is no way that the BBC should ever be funded directly from the Government, nor should Regional TV be funded from local councils. To do that would weaken Britain’s democracy by making the country’s main TV News- broadcaster dependent on government for funding- and the BBC would quickly come under strong pressure not to be critical of the Party of government- national and local. It is possible that the TV Licence will be axed in 2027 and it will then be essential that the BBC can replace it’s funding from other sources: A mix of subscription fees (with a cap to protect poorer households), business sponsorship, local lotteries and raffles, the ability to sell spin-offs and merchandise, renting out of BBC offices for conferences and to other businesses could replace the current funding arrangements and prove cheaper for current TV Licence-payers.
The BBC could also given special status to protect it from Corporation Tax (underpinned by the BBC Royal Charter) with primary legislation passed to protect the BBC’s unique Corporation Tax exemption complete with a lock that the BBC Corporation Tax legislation could not be rescinded without a 75% majority vote in Parliament. This stipulation could be worth up to £30 million annually for the BBC (enough to pay for three new BBC1 Regional News- services)! Such legislation should, accordingly, toughen up the requirements for more, and more localised Regional TV news with sanctions such as suspensions and/ or fines for BBC Directors (not to be paid out of BBC funds) should the BBC fail to provide sufficient localised Regional TV across parts of the country.
Certainly the current arrangements leave Regional TV far too underfunded to provide high-quality effective all- round local news-coverage everywhere in the country. If you ask some-one from Kendal or Millom if they get good BBC local news from North West Tonight the answer will be a firm “No! It’s mainly about Manchester and Liverpool!”. The only way to change this is through political pressure and a political Party like the Liberal Democrats would run with an issue like poor Regional TV in northern Lancashire and South Cumbria. This is certain since the Right Hon. Sir Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, which covers the South Lakes, complained about this very issue just a few years ago. He said that Cumbria gets little covered in the Manchester/ South Lancashire- dominated ITV1 Granada Reports and BBC1 North West Tonight. A link to his criticism of Regional TV in South Cumbria, in relation to proposed changes to Local Radio, is here: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0029/117659/Tim-Farron-MP.pdf.
If you are affected by poor Regional TV coverage of your community and communities nearby it is worth writing to your local MP with the proposals for the BBC mentioned. The address to write to your local MP will always be: House of Commons, Westminster, LONDON. SW1A 0AA. Although I am a Conservative, and voted to leave the EU in 2016, I am painfully aware that the current Conservative Government is very distant from Cumbria and Lancashire both in terms of their priorities (which tend to be the big cities and the South) as well as geographical distance. A national Party that campaigns effectively on local issues and has a good grass-roots base is the Liberal Democrats. Why not join them to raise the profile of poor Regional TV coverage. Their Website is here: https://www.libdems.org.uk/. I say this as one who has not been attracted to Liberal Democrat policies at a national level in recent years, particularly their policy of wanting to reverse the result of the largest democratic vote for anything in the UK in recent times- which is neither liberal nor democratic! But this Party are- at a local level- a powerful vehicle for change on local issues.