Written evidence submitted by Andrew Harrison,
It was good to see you last week, in York, along
with some of your colleagues from the Culture, Media and Sport
Select Committee. It certainly seemed that there is an "appetite"
for seeing your committee outside Westminster! As a representative
of the 300+ local commercial radio stations in this country, I
am naturally pleased that your committee has chosen local and
regional media as the subject for its current inquiry, and I look
forward to giving evidence later this year.
What was clear from last Wednesday's meeting
was the importance that continues to be attached to the local
and regional media sector by everyone. I'm sure that this sentiment
will be repeated throughout your inquiry. Commercial Radio remains
extremely committed to the provision of local output, recognising
thatperhaps increasingly soit is our unique selling
point. Most attendees to the meeting also appeared to agree that
some degree of plurality of provision in the local and regional
media sector is both desirable and necessary.
However, acknowledging the troubled state of
the sector is unavoidable. For Commercial Radio alone, seven stations
have closed this year and the Myers Review, published in April
2009, predicted that up to 50 more local commercial radio
stations are likely to close during the next 18 months.
The dilemma that you have identified, and the
CMS select committee will encounter throughout the duration of
its inquiry, is how to fund alternatives to the BBC to ensure
plurality of local news provision. As our submission to the committee's
call for evidence set out, local and regional Commercial Radio
requires a new regulatory ethos and a re-designed DAB landscape
if it is to continue to flourish. Substantial progress in these
areas has been achieved in the past few months.
However, beyond this, I believe that there is
now an urgent need to reconsider the role and resources of the
BBC. If public funding may now be required to help underpin multiple
sources of local and regional news and community information,
the licence fee (or a variation of it!) is looking like an increasingly
likely source. Realistically, we all recognise that there is unlikely
to be net more money earmarked for media than the c.£3.5bn
the BBC claims.
Assuming that is the case, I believe that the
BBC must consider how it could focus its output more tightly on
delivering the public purposes. This might include, for example,
a re-focus on original UK programming only (rather than paying
for foreign TV shows or films), and non-exclusive bidding for
sports and music rights.
Not only would this save money, but commercial
competitors such as Commercial Radio would find that they had
more space and ability to be distinctive and utilise the advantages
of operating as commercial organisations. BBC Audio and Music
has c.£400 million to spend on programming for 56 stations,
compared to Commercial Radio's £75 million programming
budget for 320+ stations. Notwithstanding the significant differences
between the sectors, I believe this indicates that BBC Audio and
Music could make substantial savings; a finding backed up by the
recent National Audio Office report into the efficiency of BBC
I look forward to engaging with you further
on this issue in the autumn. In the meantime, if you do have any
questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.