Each Friday, Points North gives a senior media figure a platform to air their views on a topical or relevant issue.
This week it’s Ashley Byrne, chair of the RIG Nations & Regions Committee and creative director of Made in Manchester. Amid the publicity surrounding the BBC’s devolution away from the capital, he says the impact on the independent radio sector has been shockingly low.
The BBC recently – and rightly – trumpeted its news that more than half its staff are now based outside of the M25 following various devolutionary moves including the opening of its centre at MediaCityUK.
But is the corporation really doing enough to be representative of the UK in all areas of its business?
As the owner of an independent radio production company based in the North, I have to say the move to Salford has done very little to boost business for me or for that matter any of my rivals. In fact, I probably spend more time tripping to London to meet decision makers now than I’ve ever done at any other time in the almost 10 years we’ve been trading.
This week, just short of 10% of independently produced programming commissioned by the BBC on its UK-wide network radio stations came from the nations or regions of the UK. The figure is similar most weeks. And all this despite the fact that more than 40% of independent production companies are based outside of London!
Why does this matter? Well because the BBC, unlike a commercial broadcaster, has in my mind an obligation to make sure that when it spends the licence fee it is spread far and wide across the nations and regions of the United Kingdom.
It’s also important in helping to increase the range of voices and stories from all corners of these isles especially when commercial radio, once rooted in the communities of this country, is becoming increasingly more centralised.
At the moment most of the big long-running radio strands which are handed to the independent sector are made by indies in London. Give any of us outside of the capital just one of those strands and the BBC could help us create jobs in the regions and nations.
This week the trade body of the independent radio production sector (RIG) called for all the BBC’s national radio networks to draw up a plan to set out how they can better represent the nations and regions of the UK by embracing and working with independent producers.
We want to see some clear targets and a move to more commissioning decisions being made outside of the capital. The Scottish referendum has been a wake-up call and a gentle reminder to all British institutions that if the UK is to grow, it cannot continue to be perceived as simply London-Plus.
Ashley Byrne is creative director of radio production company Made in Manchester. He is also chair of the Nations and Regions Committee on the Radio Independents trade body (RIG).