BBC Radio Suffolk facing uncertain future

UNCERTAINTY surrounds the future of BBC Radio Suffolk amid reports that programming could be severely cut back as the corporation seeks to save millions of pounds.

According to the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) there is a threat that the only output from local BBC stations in the future will be a breakfast show and a drive-time show at teatime.

If this happened at BBC Suffolk it would mean the end of shows such as those currently presented by James Hazell in the mid-morning and Lesley Dolphin in the afternoon.

Breakfast time presenter Mark Murphy and drive time broadcaster Stephen Foster would survive.

According to reports, the rest of the programming would be covered by national shows from BBC 5 Live.

The proposals - which will also affect BBC Radio Norfolk - are said to be part of moves by the BBC to cut costs at its 40 local radio stations across the UK, which could put an estimated 700 jobs at risk.

It hopes to save �400m from its budget following the decision last year to freeze the licence fee.

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Together, the BBC's local radio stations have an average weekly audience of 7.4m listeners.

Last night, it was claimed the move would 'spell the death' of local radio, while one Suffolk MP said the BBC should be cutting its own bureaucracy rather stripping back on valuable broadcasting.

There is already uproar among country and western fans over the axeing of Brian Mann's Sunday afternoon Suffolk Country show, which is to be replaced by a syndicated regional show.

Meanwhile, BBC Radio Suffolk has also recently lost an hour of local programming between 5am and 6am – again replaced by a regional show.

If given the go-ahead then the latest move is likely to cause an even greater outcry.

Only last week BBC Radio Suffolk helped to raise �3m for a new children's hospice in Ipswich.

Last night, David Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds, Stowmarket and Needham Market, a staunch supporter of local radio, said: 'I hope this story is not true. I would be staggered if that were the case.

'It would be utterly appalling if the BBC decided that Suffolk programming outside the breakfast and drive time shows were to be scrapped.

'The whole output of Radio Suffolk – especially its features on local issues, such as the campaign to raise �3m for the Treehouse Appeal – are a jewel in the crown of East Anglian broadcasting.

'The BBC should do more to cut its own bureaucracy within its headquarters at Shepherd's Bush rather than targeting local radio.'

According to the NUJ, BBC staff will be briefed today about a series of proposals for the future of local radio.

The union claims BBC staff fear the plans would mean the loss of at least 700 jobs and the possible closure of some stations.

The organisation has called on the BBC to 'step back from the brink' and protect the important role of local radio.

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: 'Local radio plays a crucial role in keeping local communities informed.

'These proposals would rip the heart out of local programming and effectively sound the death knell for local radio.

'Local radio programmes are produced by local people for local audiences yet these decisions are being taken far away from communities and behind closed doors.'

Last night, a spokesman for the BBC said no decisions had been made, so it would be wrong to speculate.

'It is of course only right that BBC staff have an opportunity to input ideas about shaping the BBC's future,' she said.

'The Delivering Quality First sessions are designed to provoke discussion amongst staff about the way the BBC works and any decisions coming out of the process would be subject to approval by the BBC Trust.'