Five BBC local radio stations are to try out sharing programmes on weekday afternoons, ahead of a longer-term plan to have regional shows in daytime.
In an email to staff in the English Regions, controller David Holdsworth announced that three stations in Yorkshire and three in the South East would be the first to pilot the idea of networking between neighbouring stations.
David told staff: "When the BBC published its strategy review in the spring we said that our main aim was to strengthen content and journalism at breakfast and mid-mornings by spending more on those programmes. This was a key recommendation of the Local Radio task force which Editors were involved in. We have made good progress but resources are finite and we are looking at the impact of reducing the amount of other local output to free up enough people and time to improve these morning shows where the biggest audiences tune in."
Daytime sharing will be tested in Yorkshire across Radio Sheffield, Radio Leeds and Radio York which will have one afternoon show presented by Liz Green from February 2011. At Radio Kent and BBC Sussex and Surrey, the drivetime show will be presented by Dominic King and will start next month on Monday 6 December 2010. The pilots will last for six months.
We're told that staff freed up from working on these programmes will be redeployed in their own stations with the aim of strengthening the production and newsgathering effort for breakfast and mid-morning.
David says: "We need more production effort and we know that there simply isn’t any more money available to allow us to add extra people onto the payroll. So we need to redirect resources to these programmes to strengthen our journalism. This trial will allow us to assess the market impact and the audience reaction to the extension of the current practice of BBC Local radio regional sharing in other parts of the schedule."
In an email to staff, leaked to RadioToday.co.uk, David also said: "Rest assured, we are not reducing the budgets of these stations, but we are re-organising in order to re-direct some people effort."
He continued: "Output in the afternoons remains as important as ever and I expect that we will be able to maintain the quality of our afternoon output while this trial is in effect. We don't know how our audiences will respond to this, so we will be commissioning research to check how listeners feel about the new shared programmes."
Most BBC local radio stations already share programmes with neighbouring stations in the evenings, with regional programmes produced normally at the main BBC regional centre where that region's television output comes from.
This trial looks like it could be a way of coping with major budget cuts at the corporation, but in his email to staff, David suggests that more regional networking isn't likely to follow. "Being local and serving local communities is at the heart of our mission and these pilots are not a signal that we want to change that overall direction," he said.