Local radio cutbacks would be “a serious loss” to rural Norfolk, warns CLA director

Countryside campaigners have called on the BBC to rethink proposals to axe local radio programmes.

BBC bosses are looking at different ways of making savings of up to 20pc on the corporation's budget, after the government announced the licence fee would be frozen for six years.

Proposals include reducing local radio output to two shows a day – breakfast and drive time - with the remaining aitime filled by Radio Five Live.

But the Country land and Business Association (CLA) East said the cuts would be 'a serious loss' to rural communities.

It believes that BBC local radio brings isolated communities together as well as being a source of information and entertainment that networked national radio can't fill.

Nicola Currie, director of CLA East, said: 'Local radio enables everyone to feel part of their local community, but if the proposals, as reported, were to go ahead, the local day-time programmes in which so many people and organisations participate would simply disappear.

'This would be a considerable loss to all those who spend hours without any other contact – young mothers, the aged, disabled.

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'Every day BBC local radio gives them information, entertainment - and company, which the proposal to switch to Radio Five Live during the day will not do.'

Mrs Currie said Stephen Bumfrey's afternoon show on BBC Norfolk offered airtime to a wide range of local performers, organisations, charities and characters which could not be made available in the same way through a national station such as Radio Five Live.

She said countywide stations were the first port of call for many during an emergency, for local news, weather and traffic news.

'Frequently the rural areas are the first to lose power supplies and in any case cannot depend on a reliable internet connection,' said Mrs Currie. 'In times of crisis with no power available radio is often the only medium still working, in cars, tractors or via battery or clockwork models.

'Crises do not occur at convenient times, and radio can often be the only source of current information. Just last winter constantly updated bulletins on school closures prevented many unnecessary and unsafe journeys.'

Mrs Currie said local radio stations also played an important role when low-lying parts of the region were under threat from flooding.

The proposal to cut local radio output is one of a number of ideas being discusssed after staff consultations, which are still in progress.

Other suggestions include cutting overnight programming between 10.30pm and 6am, which would save �150m - more than the �137m cost of the corporation's 40 local radio stations in 2010.

Writing on a blog about the changes Caroline Thomson, the BBC's chief operating officer, said: 'I can assure you no decisions have been made yet and none of the ideas currently being explored will definitely happen. Equally, I can't rule anything out and we are still welcoming further suggestions.

'We won't be giving a running commentary on every speculative idea - but I want to be clear that our commitment to quality content as well as value for money is running right through this process.

'I can't pretend there aren't difficult choices and some painful decisions to be made but I'm hopeful that by thinking radically and being transparent about the process the decisions we make will be in the best interests of the BBC and our audiences.'

Final proposals will be shared with staff before being submitted to the BBC Trust for approval in July.

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