Garrison Radio closes as BFBS goes local
Mark Page’s 12 year old Garrison Radio network has closed after losing its contract to supply the service to sites across Britain.
Services Sound and Vision Corporation, the company which operates BFBS, has instead been awarded a 10 year contract to supply all forces broadcasting at home and abroad in a tender process which Mark Page claims was flawed.
The MoD sought only one provider for all forces broadcasting and this larger scale contract was to encompass the existing provision at the bases served by Garrison Radio.
As a result, Garrison formed a consortium with a satellite TV operator and TV news, production and technology companies and spent a substantial sum preparing a bid.
However, the bid could not be made viable and all other interested parties also pulled out because the way the tender process was structured. Garrison Radio asked the MoD to re-run the tender under more competitive criteria but the MoD refused.
Garrison Radio has spent most of last year fighting the MoD in the High Court. A challenge to the process in the High Court failed in July when the MoD insisted that BFBS had to be awarded the new contract immediately if there was to be no break in the service next March, but the judge accepted that nobody other than the incumbent was likely to have been able to bid.
The dispute centres on the question of the cost of providing expensive technical equipment, including hundreds of transmitters, dozens of studios and 32,000 local set-top boxes in forces’ locations around the world.
Garrison Radio says these facilities, worth tens of millions of pounds, were freely available to the incumbent, BFBS, but would have to be supplied and installed afresh by any new contractor.
Mark said “It was structured in a way that favoured one bidder against all others. Garrison Radio has proved an effective and popular broadcaster and has delivered value for money programming to serving soldiers and their families. However, we have not had the chance to make a case based on the quality or cost of our programmes because the capital costs of new equipment for a larger contract would instantly rule our company out. BFBS has equipment in place that was paid for by the taxpayer but was unavailable to us at the time of tendering”.
“We wanted the MOD to re-run this tender on a fair and equitable basis. This was supposed to be an example of opening up defence contracts to commercial competition, the MoD should have judged our bid on value for money, our programming ideas, ability to recruit able broadcasters and the high quality of our news, information and entertainment for those serving in the forces and their families at home or abroad. The effect of the MoD’s tendering criteria has been to hand the contract on a plate to the larger existing contractor by running a process that appears prejudicial against any other bid from the very start.”
Now, BFBS has taken over the Garrison community radio licences and launched BFBS Aldershot (102.5), BFBS Blandford (89.3), BFBS Catterick (106.9), BFBS Colchester (107.0), BFBS Salisbury Plain (106.8) and BFBS Scotland (98.5).
Live and local breakfast shows are broadcast from these locations whilst BFBS continues on Sky, DAB and Freeview.
Existing stations operate in Aldergrove, Ballykinler, Holywood and Lisburn and the BFBS Gurkha Radio service on AM in the UK.
Nick Pollard, Chief Executive of the Services Sound and Vision Corporation, said: “We are delighted to be starting this new era as the Forces broadcaster. Throughout the past seven decades we have served Britain’s Armed Forces and their families around the world and are proud to be continuing that.
“It is a time of great change for the UK’s military community and we will be changing too – in our programmes, in our technology and in the locations we operate. But one thing that won’t change is our commitment to giving the best possible service to the men and women of our Armed Forces.”