Many of us have campaigned at various times but individually over many years. Whether it was the closure of the Central TV studios in Birmingham and then Nottingham, or the BBC closure of its most iconic of studios at Pebble Mill, the scaling back of radio production including Radio 2, Radio 5 and the Asian Network at Leicester and Birmingham, or the threatened closure of the Drama Village. We wrote letters, alerted the press and our MPs but crucially, we acted alone. That has now changed.
In the beginning
It was the BBC proposal to close its award winning and highly successful Factual Unit at BBC Birmingham that finally brought us all together. Thanks to internet posts and email we contacted each other, met one Saturday afternoon in the cafe of The Midlands Institute, in November 2011 to form a loose coalition of licence fee payers and industry professionals. As a grass roots campaign, we were reacting to try and save what little was left of network programme making in the Midlands.
This was a cut too far, hidden away as it was in a short paragraph at the bottom of page 18 of the so-called 'Delivering Quality First' (DQF) consultation document - the BBC's blueprint for its future, published in October 2011.
The previous 12 years had already seen quite severe cuts to BBC facilities and programme making in all parts of the Midlands, more so than any other region. There was no mention in the so called consultation document that BBC network production from our region was about to be all but closed down.
Some mention was made in DQF of Birmingham remaining as a home for "substantial drama". By this, a nod was being made to two existing long-standing commissions: Doctors, a daytime TV drama and The Archers, the long running radio drama, broadcast on Radio 4. There is also an average of one or two other short daytime drama commissions each year, made by the BBC Drama Village, a small production unit based at a campus of Birmingham University.
Pick n'mix remits
Our experience was of being sent round in circles by the great and the good. We wrote letters to Lord Patten, then Chair of the BBC Trust. In reply, we were told to write to Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary at that time, who in turn replied and told us to write to... Lord Patten.
Then the BBC Trust told us that the closure of the Factual Unit at Birmingham was outside the remit of their public consultation into the BBC's DQF proposals. We believe this to have been wrong at worst, or an incorrect decision at best by the BBC Trust.
At no point as ordinary licence fee payers were we allowed to question the decisions made by BBC management. Decisions which were to have devastating long term consequences for highly skilled and accomplished programme makers, for broadcasting in the region and for the wider Midlands economy.
When the BBC Trust published its response to the DQF proposals, the closure of the Factual Unit at Birmingham was not included. In our humble opinion, there should be no licence fee without representation.
As far as we know, no economic or diversity impact reports on the Midlands were made before the BBC took a decision to remove or close BBC production in the Midlands region.
Questions that were put forward by the broadcasting union BECTU on behalf of the Midlands BBC workers were never answered.
At least, we can report that 19 MPs signed an early day motion concerning the loss of the BBC Factual Unit in Birmingham but their concerns raised in this were never properly addressed (more).
Turning up the volume
Disappointed as we were by the complete lack of interest from the BBC management, the BBC Trust, the Culture Secretary and some of our local leaders at yet more cutbacks in Birmingham, we are proud to say that we were undaunted.
In fact, we realised that unity is strength. The time had come to inform our fellow Midlanders of what is happening and to alert them of the long term damage that is being done to their regional economy. The local political landscape has shifted and we have been encouraged in the interest being shown in this issue by local politicians of all parties, from MPs and from different parts of the region.
Despite our efforts, the BBC went ahead and closed the Factual Unit in Birmingham (in summer 2012) and over 100 highly skilled programme makers were made redundant, retired early or relocated.
We think enough is enough.
We want a greater proportion of our own licence fee to be spent "in region".
Our experience pointed to a need for a coordinated campaign, hence The Campaign for Regional Broadcasting Midlands was launched in February, 2013.