Valerie calls on BBC to protect local political and current affairs reporting

The BBC looks set to end two local current affairs and politics programmes, Inside Out West Midlands and Sunday Politics West Midlands. Over 100 elected representatives of communities across the West Midlands, have written a joint letter to regional BBC chiefs urging them to protect these important local programmes.

Local and regional BBC reporting keeps communities connected and informed. These programmes cover matters beyond Westminster on issues that directly affect my constituents. They allow politicians to discuss local issues and ideas and to be held to account by the communities we serve.

Inside Out West Midlands is part of an award-winning series of current affairs and investigative journalism. It represents outstanding value for the licence fee payer – with its stories frequently used by other parts of the BBC network.

Sunday Politics West Midlands is an opportunity to discuss local political issues with MPs and other political representatives. It allows MPs, councillors and candidates to highlight issues and debate ideas, within a regional context. It allows journalists to hold local politicians to account.

The BBC has a responsibility to provide regional and local programming. I recognise that the BBC is currently under significant financial strain and I have repeatedly called on the Government to provide the BBC with the funding it needs. During Business Questions on Thursday 12 March 2020, I urged the Government to think again over TV licence charges for over 75s. On Monday 16 March 2020 the Government and BBC announced their decision to delay TV licence fee changes for the over 75s until August owing to Covid 19 pamdemic. Free TV licences for up to 3.7 million people had been due to be scrapped on 1 June 2020, but that has been put back to 1 August 2020.

I welcomed this U-turn but would like to see free TV licences for over 75s reinstated indefinitely, not just until August.

You can read the full text of my letter to the BBC below:

“We, a group of more than a hundred elected representatives of communities across the West Midlands, are writing to you regarding our concerns over the BBC’s current review into regional programming, and to urge against cuts to local political and current affairs reporting.

“The BBC’s local investigative reporting and political debate programmes perform an essential role. We understand and appreciate why certain programmes have been suspended during the Coronavirus crisis and pay tribute to your news teams that have endeavoured to cover events in our region on Midlands Today.

“However, we understand a date has not yet been confirmed for when programmes such as the award-winning Inside Out and Sunday Politics will resume, and that their future is now ‘under review’. We would like to take this opportunity to pledge our support for the future of the programmes and ask for clarity on your plans for regional political reporting.

“Too often, politics is seen as remote; important issues confined to a Westminster bubble – but it is our job and yours to prove that that is not the case. It is critical that our local councils are scrutinised and held accountable, but also given a voice. Our local reporters, who live and work in the community, provide invaluable insight and analysis into local decision making and its impact on residents across the region.

“These BBC programmes provide agenda-setting reporting, as well as a platform for MPs, councillors, and candidates to highlight issues and debate ideas, within a regional context. It is essential the BBC guarantee such platforms continue to exist.

“The BBC’s regional political programme has undergone various alterations to its format over the years, but its mantra has always remained – ‘From Downing Street, to your street.’ We would encourage you to remember this and the crucial service you provide to your viewers across the country.

“We appreciate that the BBC is under significant financial strain at present. Coronavirus is an unprecedented challenge, and the hostility of the Conservative Government has seen the subsidy for free over-75s TV licences scrapped. However, we are opposed to cuts to vital local reporting.

“We therefore strongly urge any review to consider these facts and once again, request details on your commitment to regional reporting in the West Midlands.”