BBC Local Radio England - Complaint to Ofcom

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I’ve made a complaint this morning to Ofcom regarding the way the BBC is handling public engagement for its proposed changes to local radio in England. As a public service paid from a universal licence fee, the BBC should be held to a higher standard of public scrutiny than commercial and free market media. If the BBC can’t provide adequate public information and meaningful consultation with licence fee payers, trust in the BBC as a universal public institution is undermined. The responses I’ve received from my complaints to the BBC have been cursory and off-hand. I can’t help feel that licence fee payers are being treated with contempt by an institution that is out of touch with the needs and the wishes of the people who fund it.

To complain to Ofcom, a complaint first has to be made to the BBC

If the response is unsatisfactory, then a complaint can be made to Ofcom

Here’s my complaint made this morning:

Dear Ofcom

I wish to complain that the BBC is failing in its duty to meaningfully engage with the public in relation to its proposed changes to BBC Local Radio in England.

The BBC have updated their public information regarding the proposals, but little has been made clear beyond a single press release.

There seems to be no information provided online that I can view what the proposed changes are, how they differ between different areas, and what response has been given from the public.

The BBC responded to my complaint (see below), by indicating that they value feedback, but they continually fail to provide any verifiable evidence of what that feedback says.

The BBC has similarly failed to put any information into the public domain relating to their market research, which they are using to justify their decision, so that licence fee payers and other organisations might make an independent assessment of the case that the BBC is proposing as necessary for the sustainability of their services.

I believe this is an abuse of their monopoly position as a public service broadcaster, which is counter to the interests of citizens and licence fee payers.

The proposed changes to BBC Local Radio may well have a detrimental impact on the independent media economy in many places, but I am unable to come to a view about this because so little evidence of consultation is available to view.

As the supervising agency that assesses the BBC’s performance, and acting in the interest of the licence fee payer and other citizens, can Ofcom please compel the BBC to publish a full impact assessment of their proposals.

This should include an equalities assessment for audiences, a civic-engagement assessment for local public services in each area, and an economic assessment for other independent media service providers who my be affected by these changes, both community and commercial.

It is unacceptable that the BBC do not have to engage in meaningful public consultation when proposing changes of this scale and nature, as other public service organisations are bound to do.

The limited information that has been placed in the public domain is far from sufficient for anyone to make an independent assessment of the course of action that is being pursued.

The lack of engagement undermines trust in the BBC and weakens the case for a universal licence fee if citizens and licence fee payers are unable to engage meaningfully with the BBC on proposed changes.

Yours sincerely


I’ve had a response from Ofcom following my complaint about the BBC’s cuts to local radio in England.

Ofcom agree that the BBC needs to do more to engage with communities and licence fee payers about the changes they are making. Here’s their reply:

Dear Dr Watson,

Thank you for getting back in touch and outlining your concerns about the BBC’s engagement with the public on its proposed changes to BBC Local Radio in England.

The BBC is currently operating in a period of significant change. It needs to evolve its offering to reflect the new ways audiences are consuming content, yet at the same time it is also coming under greater financial pressure. We recognise that the BBC will have to make some difficult decisions as it seeks to respond to these challenges. However, it must continue to deliver on its obligation to serve all audiences across the UK with distinctive, high-quality UK content.

We believe that the BBC needs to do more to engage with audiences about changes to its content and services. Audiences pay for the BBC through the licence fee, and their confidence in the BBC’s ability to respond to the challenges it faces is critical. We have explained to the BBC that in making changes to its services it must be more transparent about its plans and fully explain what these mean in practice for the delivery of content for audiences, and how it will continue to deliver its remit.

We are closely scrutinising the BBC’s plans for local radio and engaging with it to understand them in greater detail, particularly the updated plans it announced on 18 January 2023[1]. Our ongoing monitoring process will also enable us to assess the BBC’s provision of local content for all audiences, and if we identify any concerns we could address these by imposing specific requirements within the BBC’s Operating Licence.

We are currently in the process of finalising a new Operating Licence for the BBC which we publicly consulted on last year. This new Licence will formally require the BBC to publish more information about how it is delivering high quality, distinctive content and services for audiences across the UK, including in relation to local radio.

We hope this has been helpful in clarifying what we are doing to hold the BBC to account.

Yours sincerely,

Broadcasting and Online Content Group