The BBC’s director general, Mark Thompson, has opted for salami-slicing of services pretty much across the board as part of his Delivering Quality First initiative. Forced to make budget cuts of 20% in consequence of the licence fee being frozen until 2017, Thompson is loath to sacrifice an entire service or channel. When vast amounts of money are clearly spent on sustaining a massive bureaucracy, it’s a shame he’s also unwilling (or unable) to trim the fat by focusing on waste and inefficiency. Salami-slicing is often considered the politically acceptable approach to such challenges.
The first chop of the knife threatens specialist music programmes and local radio services. Someone once said they loved music because it’s the invisible art. Soon, it may be the inaudible one too. Despite its remit to support minority music, the BBC is already wielding the axe, particularly to programmes outside of peak hours and at weekends.
These are the very programmes that the BBC should be supporting. According to the BBC Local Radio Service Licence: “BBC Local Radio should contribute to [stimulating creativity and cultural excellence] amongst its audience. It should provide opportunities for new and emerging musicians from the local area and support local arts and music events by providing event information. Music output should be mainstream in peaktime and include specialist in off-peak hours. Specialist music should be appropriate to the area. Current and recent chart hits should represent no more than 15% of weekly music output. BBC Local Radio stations should take advantage of their structure – small teams and no formal commissioning structure – to act as a test bed for new production ideas and ways of working, and for developing new talent.”
The loss of these programmes is potentially disastrous for musicians, who rely on airplay and royalties as well as publicity for upcoming gigs. They are also very popular, as demonstrated by the outcry occasioned by the threats to scrap them.
Music aside, local radio provides a vital lifeline for disadvantaged people in the community such as the disabled and the elderly.
It has recently emerged that the BBC has almost two thousand staff with the word “manager” in their job title. That’s almost half of all of its job titles! In order to deliver quality first, the BBC should preserve its specialist programmes and local services and take the knife to its bloated management structure.