The BBC this week trumpeted new figures which showed more than half its staff are now based outside the M25 following moves to Salford and other devolution measures.
For a public broadcaster that has a duty to cover the entire UK, this is obviously very welcome news but is the corporation really doing enough to support network RADIO production in the regions and nations?
It’s just one of the questions which will be up for debate at this year’s Nations and Regions Media Conference when it’s held at MediaCityUK on Tuesday Nov 18th.
And it’s an important question. As the boss of an independent production company based in Manchester I can safely say the BBC’s move to Salford has had little impact on business for my company or my rivals in the area. Despite 43 per cent of indies being based outside London, very few of the BBC’s long running strands are made by independent producers in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or the regions of England.
This is important on three fronts. Firstly because it means the licence fee isn’t being spread across the UK. Surely a duty for a public service broadcaster? Secondly because the BBC’s rivals in commercial radio are increasingly being centralized via consolidation and hubbing and therefore regional voices which often made ILR distinctive are disappearing. And thirdly, in the wake of the Scottish Referendum and plans by Westminster for more devolution around the UK, it’s vital the BBC is seen to be reflecting the mood on all levels.
The session looking at how the Nations and Regions are represented on UK wide radio will take place from 1300-1400 on the first day of the conference. It will be chaired by Gillian Reynolds and panelists will include Jeff Zycinski, head of radio, BBC Scotland, Liam Fisher, Programme Director TalkSPORT and Will Jackson, the Managing Director of RIG (The Radio Independents Group). In addition Tim Collins from Ocean FM in the Republic of Ireland will be outlining how 7% of Ireland’s licence fee pays for public service programming on commercial radio there.
Meanwhile the event will also include the chance for radio indies and producers to pitch ad hoc ideas face to face with Radio Commissioners from most of the UK’s main national networks – among them editors from Radio 1,2,3,5 as well the Programme Director of talkSPORT, Liam Fisher and the Head of Radio at BBC Scotland, Jeff Zycinski.
Also on the agenda – Devo Drama, a TV and radio drama session looking at the challenges and opportunities facing drama made in the Nations and Regions. This will include presentations from BBC Wales, ITV – and from Audible which has recently begun asking for fresh audio drama ideas.
There will be keynote speeches also from Peter Salmon, from Harriet Harman and the BBC’s Brian Redhead Lecture.
Later in the evening, David Prest from Whistledown Productions will unveil the new RIG Train scheme in which radio independents will be able to bid for a slice of money to help train the next generation of freelance radio professionals coming into the independent radio production sector.
In addition there are several technical radio sessions throughout the day on November 18th.
Full details about the Conference can be found here.
And finally, and most importantly, a one day discount for the conference is available for independent production companies, independent producers and freelance radio professionals. It’s 79.99 plus VAT when you call 0161 295 3000 using the code RADIO40.
I look forward to seeing you many of you there on November 18th.
Ashley Byrne is Creative Director of Made in Manchester Productions