Welcome to today's edition of the BBC in the Midlands Today.
Here is the news...
"The BBC has a continuing commitment to Birmingham"
said a corporation spokesperson to the Birmingham Post, February 2013.
From a solid foundation, the BBC has been making continual cutbacks to their operations, facilities, workforce and programme making in the Midlands every year since 2000. Why?
The main television production studio at Pebble Mill was mothballed in 2000, followed by the demolition of the complex in 2004. Having moved into a smaller facility at The Mailbox in Birmingham city centre, there has been a continuing and almost yearly reduction in staff numbers and programme making. Why?
In 2012, the Factual Unit was transferred to Bristol with the loss of over 100 jobs. In 2014, one of only three programmes made for the Asian Network was transfered to London. In terms of programme making, there is very little left of the BBC in the Midlands. Why?
Yet the BBC Midlands region is the largest, containing 25% of the UK population. It contributes one quarter of all licence fee revenue: £942 million in 2014 alone. In short, the Midlands is the biggest region that sees the lowest spend and the smallest programme making output. Why?
0% of Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3, Radio 5, BBC2, BBC3, BBC4 and peak-time BBC1 are made in the Midlands. Just over 5% of BBC1 daytime output is made in the region. About 2.7% of Radio 4 output comes from Birmingham - if daily and weakly repeats are factored in! Why?
Here is a summary of the BBC in the Midlands Today:
• Between 2009 and 2014, regional spending across the UK by the BBC increased by an impressive 35%
• Spending increased in every nation & region outside London, except the Midlands, where it decreased by 35%
• The BBC raises more licence fee income in its 'Midlands region' (£942 million every year) than any
other nation or region in the UK and spends less on making programmes in it
• Over £860 million of licence fee income flowed out of the Midlands in 2014.
No other nation or region contributes more to BBC spending in the capital
• There are no BBC network television studios in the entire region. Yes, we have no studios!
• BBC network radio studios in Birmingham are now vastly under utilised - and therefore vulnerable
• Vital creative jobs have been lost and continue to be lost
• The Midlands is absent from BBC schedules and
the region is not being represented at a national level.
There are no programmes made in this region for peaktime BBC television.
• The regional economy suffers directly and indirectly
• Young people must leave the region if looking for a career in broadcasting
• We pay the same licence fee (£145.50) but get so much less in return
Therefore, we are calling on the BBC - to reverse the cutbacks and to invest in the Midlands. We would like to see a genuine and continuing commitment to the region.
In the West Midlands, the BBC's main base is at The Mailbox - a city centre shopping and leisure mall in Birmingham. Described as a "state of the art" production base, with only a small space for the regional nightly news, these are 'studios' without a studio! There is no network television production studio here.
The Mailbox is home to the local radio station, a reduced amount of programming for the Asian Network (most programming now comes from London) and very little for the mainstream national radio networks (due to more radio cutbacks at Birmingham in 2012). The exception is The Archers which was originally commissioned by the BBC regional service in 1950 (although its radio studio lies idle for 3 weeks of every month and this gives us a cause for concern. It could be put to more productive use, such as becoming a cost effective and convenient central location for Radio 4 drama).
The Mailbox was previously the base for the highly acclaimed and award winning Factual Unit. This team produced prestigious and highly rated programmes such as Coast (countlessly repeated), Countryfile (the only programme that was made for the peak-time BBC television schedule in Birmingham) and the long running and internationally acclaimed Sky at Night, amongst many others. In 2012 this unit was closed and the staff either transferred elsewhere or accepted redundancy.
We believe that the BBC made a mistake by closing the Factual Unit in Birmingham. It was the home of highly creative world-class programme makers. Programme making should be returned to The Mailbox.
The Mailbox is reported to have cost some £40 million to open in 2004 and continues to cost the BBC over £1 million per annum in rental costs alone.
Even this investment pails into insignificance when compared to the cost of the new BBC Pacific Quay development at Glasgow (opened in 2007) at a cost of some £188 million. Or MediaCityUK in Manchester (2012) at a cost of £880 million. Then there was the £350 million spent on building new studios and offices for 6,000 employees at Media Village (2004) in west London. And let's not forget that just over £1 billion refurbishment of BBC headquarters (opened 2012) in London... again.
These comparitive figures, provided by the BBC itself, speak for themselves. The Midlands is Aunty's poor relation, but her biggest earner.
The Drama Village
The BBC entered into a joint venture with Birmingham University in 2005 by opening 'The Drama Village' using various converted buildings in Selly Oak. Opened with a fanfare of publicity, Alan Yentob, the BBC Creative Director at that time said, "The BBC is completely committed to regional production and we're genuinely excited about the future of drama in the city". Never the less, the BBC considered closing this small facility in 2008, only 3 years after opening it! There followed a local campaign and after much waiting, it was announced that it was to stay open after all.
It is the base for daytime drama Doctors (which pulls in a highly respectable 2 million viewers every weekday afternoon for BBC1) and an average of two daytime short-drama commission every year. The Drama Village produces high quality programming on a shoestring budget.
This small, highly efficient centre of excellence should be expanded. We would like to see drama every month in peak-time schedules on national BBC channels that is made in the Midlands. The future of Doctors - and hence The Drama Village itself - may be assured if each daytime episode was repeated later during the evening on BBC2 or BBC4 - a low cost solution for the BBC that would also bring Midlands made drama to the peak-time schedules.