I am secretary of the NUJ parliamentary group, and I thank all Members who came to the lobby and briefing with the NUJ a few weeks ago. It was a very successful event. I also thank all those who have offered support and joined us on the picket lines. I welcome the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) to revolutionary syndicalism. It has been interesting to see that conversion.
It is depressing for most of us who are advocates of public sector broadcasting to have to come back to this debate so often. There is genuine anxiety among many staff that we are seeing a whittling away of local radio services so that eventually BBC management will prove the point that it wants to prove: that the services are no longer supported and therefore unnecessary. It will then close them down altogether. That seems to be the strategy: to make the service unsustainable, cut by cut.
As a London MP, I will talk about services in London. Radio London produces 133 hours a week. That is being cut to 85 hours. That represents a cut from 79% to 51% in our local output. Industrial action has meant that we have won some gains in London. We are keeping the London afternoon show from 2 pm to 6 pm, but the rest will be combined with Kent, Surrey and Sussex. To be honest, that is not good enough. As everyone is saying, local radio should be truly local, which means it should be locally produced.
London needs a specific service due to its range of ethnic diversity, its differing levels of affluence and poverty, and the scale of its vulnerable audiences. In all our discussions with the broadcasters, we have made the point that local radio is not just about news; it is about companionship as much as anything. There has been no acknowledgement in our discussions with the BBC of the digital divide, which has been brought out by the data. People are angry that this has been driven through without consultation, as the director general admitted in front of a Select Committee.
We have talked a lot about presenters today, and we all have relationships with our local presenters—good, bad or indifferent—because they rightly hold us to account, but there are many more people behind them. There are producers, production assistants and others, many of whom are on even lower wages that the union has been arguing for some time are unacceptable. Since the announcements, management has told some of these people that they will not know their future until October. A sword of Damocles has been hanging over their head for nearly a year, which has had an impact on people’s wellbeing and mental health, as evidenced when we met staff.
If Members remember the briefing session, they will know that what staff find really insulting is the argument that this is all about a shift to digital. These staff do digital, with no help from the BBC. A lot of the time, these people trained themselves on digital so they could enhance their programmes and provide the BBC with a range of services. Many of the staff found it completely disingenuous and, actually, insulting when Tim Davie, Jason Horton and Rhodri Davies argued as if they were archaeological exhibits who do not provide the digital services of the future.
We all respect the BBC’s independence, but the BBC should reflect the community it serves. What has come out of all these debates is that, on this particular issue, the BBC has belligerently ignored the views of local communities. Members of Parliament are meant to be the voice of our constituents, and we are saying with a strong voice today, and the motion says it all, that the BBC needs to think again, on behalf of our communities, on behalf of our constituents and—I say this as secretary of the NUJ parliamentary group—on behalf of the staff who have served the BBC well over the years.
When we met the staff who came to the lobby, I was moved by how many of them have long service and how many of them have dedicated their life to the BBC. They love the service they provide. I caution the BBC that the strikes will be back if it does not listen, because the staff are not going to sit back and take this. At the same time, it is interesting that there has been overwhelming support within our communities for industrial action. Our communities agree with the staff. Where else can they go? What else can they do to save this service when the BBC is not listening? Let us hope the BBC will listen to this debate.