Frequently Asked Questions
In this section, we provide the answers to the questions we get asked the most.
Does the campaign endorse the licence fee as way to fund broadcasting?
Yes, most definitely. We firmly believe that the presence of a publicly funded broadcaster in a wider spectrum of platforms, channels and advertising funded providers has led, and continues to lead to higher production standards and increased competition across much, if not all of the UK’s broadcasting sector. It is no irony whatsoever that many commercial broadcasters in the UK have a solid record for creativity and content production, directly related to the need to compete with a publicly funded broadcaster. This is also true for the generally high standards of advertising on British television. However, we believe there should be a fair, 50% distribution of the licence fee across the nations & regions and the Midlands is not seeing that. If the BBC cannot redistribute our own licence fee fairly then we advocate legislation to force it do so, or alternatively, the licence fee could be handed to an independent authority and a share of it could it be distributed to other programme makers who show more of an interest in the region. It is our money after all.
Is the campaign for or against the BBC?
We are enthusiastic supporters of a British Broadcasting Corporation that is devolved across the nations and regions of the UK. By this, we believe there should be a more equitable spread of facilities, commissioning, people and programme making to reflect the rich regional diversity of the country as a whole – not selected parts of it. We believe that a BBC should be closer and more local to those who pay for it. The BBC that we would prefer to see is not the one that has emerged in the last 10 years or more. This is especially true for the Midlands which has the highest number of licence fee payers of any of the BBC’s 7 nations & regions but sees the lowest spending on programme making by far; has no television production studios; has been left with only a handful of employees and small production units (with low budgets).
Are you trying to get a share of BBC expenditure from the other Nations & Regions?
No. We are a campaign that promotes the regions as being places where talent is employed, facilities are developed and programmes are made. Therefore we are truly delighted to find that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are seeing a far higher return of their licence fee income to their own areas. Likewise we endorse the move of some BBC departments to outside London but we have a concern that this policy appears to be a token, as the BBC is still too centralised. Whilst BBC expenditure in the north has increased significantly since 2012, we note that this is not across the north as a whole. At the same time, expenditure in the Midlands has decreased significantly over many years and continues to do so. It seems to us that investment in the nations & regions has been more at the expense of the Midlands than anywhere else in the UK. For instance, BBC regional expenditure increased by an impressive 35% between 2009 and 2014, with increases in every region except the Midlands, where it happened to decline by 35%. The BBC appears to have been spending more in "the regions" / "outside the M25" but protecting its centre at the same time. Nowhere pays more for the BBC in London than the Midlands, nearly twice as much as London licence fee payers themselves. As delighted as we are that some expenditure has trickled out of the BBC centre we would like to see much more and an equitable spread of that to benefit all licence fee payers. The Midlands in particular.
The BBC say that they have a “continuing commitment” to the Midlands. How do you respond to that?
The only commitment that the BBC finance department seems to have its Midlands region is to continually make cutbacks to expenditure, people and facilities and to transfer an ever increasing portion of our licence fee to the BBC centre. This has been on-going over many years and has reached the point where expenditure per licence fee payer is now estimated by us to be in the region of only £12.40 for 2014. This is much lower than any other BBC nation or region and way below the £73.40 average for the north and south of England. To underline the point, we estimate that the BBC transferred £862 million of the £942 million that the Midlands paid to it, in 2014 – this all goes to fund operational expenditure in London. Only £80 million was spent across the West Midlands, East Midlands and the East of England. That is the total opposite of a “continuing commitment”. A more honest dialogue is called for.
The BBC say that Birmingham is the home of “substantial drama”.
We would not describe drama output from the Midlands as being substantial but we are very proud of what the talented team at the BBC Drama Village in Selly Oak are able to produce on the smallest of drama budgets. Doctors is a daytime drama that is made for one third of the budget of EastEnders, with more episodes and a healthy 2 million daytime viewers. On average there are one or two other short series of daytime drama (usually 5 or 10 episodes each) made here each year. With no regular peak time drama slot and no associated peak time drama budget then we believe a much more accurate description of the Drama Village’s capabilities and output would be “efficient” and “well made”. Substantially more drama from the Midlands is needed.
The Licence Fee has been frozen until 2016. Shouldn’t the Midlands see its share of expenditure cutbacks?
Retrenchment in the region has been constant for at least 15 years - far longer than the current licence fee freeze. In fact, there is very little left of the BBC in the region. The corporation needs to live up the first B of its name if it is to justify to the region why £942 million is raised here. Cutbacks in the Midlands have been far more severe than any other nation or region. Yes, we now have no production studios! Yes, there are no programmes shown on peak-time BBC television that are made here. Yes, we have seen operational expenditure drop by 35% between 2009 and 2014. The BBC is under some financial pressure that is for sure, but extravagance and highly flawed planning are equally or more to blame. In the meantime, to protect its centre, the BBC appears to have been using the Midlands as a cash cow. In short, we simply do not accept the austerity argument as a reason for what we have witnessed in this region. It seems to be a disregard for the licence fee payers that is to blame. It must be reversed.
What about the other broadcasters? Don't they have an even worse record than the BBC.
The Campaign is not just about the BBC, not a bit of it. Yes, we commenced our first major campaign with a petition to the new Director General, Tony Hall and the previous Chair of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten. However, we will also question why other broadcasters such as ITV (for whom the Midlands is their 3rd largest advertising region) and others are not making programmes in the region. Why do none of them have a strong regional presence? There are solutions to these problems that we will seek to offer in the months ahead. The difference between the commercial sector and the BBC is that we pay a form of taxation to the BBC and as such, we strongly believe that 50% of that should be retained and spent in the region. With a stronger BBC presence in the Midlands, it could act as a catalyst for other broadcasters and programme makers.