Outrage as BBC accused of ‘reducing services for older people’

MPs have accused the BBC of reducing services for older people because it has moved budgets from local radio to regional online services.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) also warned the broadcaster “lacks a clear plan” on how to spend an extra £700 million outside London between March 2021 and March 2028.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, chair of the committee, said: “The BBC is seeking to liberate hundreds of millions in spending from the gravitational pull of London, and it is understandable that the simple act of having done so would feel like success.

“But as with every publicly-funded project, it is incumbent on the BBC to track what positive impact its spending is having at the same time.

“Parliament and the public must also be fully satisfied that the BBC is not simply cherry-picking examples of success in delivery of Across the UK (ATUK), while sweeping bad news stories under the rug as not part of the programme, in particular cuts to local radio. It must also take care not to over-rely on partnerships with local authorities already dealing with extreme financial pressure.

“We wish the BBC fair wind with ATUK, and hope our report comes as a timely reminder of the importance of seeking value for money, rather than just money spent.”

The Daily Express has called for radio stations and TV to be free to air for those who cannot stream or lack digital subscriptions through the Keep Us Tuned In campaign.

The crusade backs calls for terrestrial services to be safeguarded until the 2040s at the earliest.

The PAC’s inquiry found that ATUK is overly focused on moving spending outside of London as a measure of success in itself, rather than robustly tracking what positive change it is achieving by having done so.

MPs warned that plans to evaluate the programme’s impact are only due to begin in 2025 which is “too late to change course if needed”.

The PAC said: “The report further raises concerns that the risks and impacts of changes made to ATUK’s scope were not well enough understood by the BBC, with changes made to local services potentially disadvantaging certain groups.

“Particular concerns relate to the BBC moving budgets from its local radio to local online services, in effect reducing services for older people or those less able to access online platforms, which was part of the original ATUK programme.”

Thomas Wrathmell, director of the BBC’s Across the UK initiative, said: “We have a very clear plan on how we will move investment, programming and decision-making across the UK to get closer to audiences, support the country’s diverse creative sectors, and develop and nurture new talent. Our pioneering programme is deliberately ambitious and has been fully assessed.

“We are incredibly proud of the progress we’ve made so far and remain focused on achieving our targets to deliver cultural and economic benefits across the UK.

“We are disappointed by some of the commentary in the Committee’s report and look forward to addressing the issues raised when we provide our written response. We will continue to provide ongoing updates to the general public and industry stakeholders through the BBC’s annual plan and annual report.”

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