Derry MP warns any move to close Radio Foyle must be stopped

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood MP has claimed the cuts to staffing and programming at BBC Radio Foyle are the beginning of a move ‘to close BBC Radio Foyle by stealth’ which he said cannot be allowed to proceed.

Derry’s MP was speaking after the BBC announced the axing of the Radio Foyle Breakfast Show and hourly news bulletins, with a number of staff jobs at risk.

Mr Eastwood said the station provides an important service for people in the north west and that its long-term future must be protected.

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“This decision by the BBC top brass is nothing more than a shameful attempt to begin to shutdown BBC Radio Foyle by stealth,” he claimed.

Foyle MP Colum Eastwood.

"It’s gutting our local station to the point that it will be unsustainable. My thoughts are with all of those who are affected by today’s announcements and now face an uncertain future at what is already a very difficult time.

“Radio Foyle has been broadcasting to people in this area for over 40 years and we have seen numerous attempts to reduce its services and staff. That the station is still such an integral part of life for people in the north west is a tribute to the efforts of all the staff. During previous attempts to make cuts at Radio Foyle we have seen a groundswell of public support and we need to do everything possible to make the BBC aware of how important this station is to this community and to force them to reconsider these decisions. If there are cuts to be made, it should be on some of the outrageous wages that the BBC currently spends. Our local station and listeners should not suffer because the BBC lack the will to upset their highest earners."

In a statement the BBC said its plans will ‘facilitate the enhancement of its digital video and online services and the savings that it will need to make over the coming period’.

“These plans reflect a BBC-wide strategy to prioritise digital content, announced earlier this year, and the need to manage inflationary and other cost pressures.

BBC Radio Foyle.

“Local investment in BBC iPlayer will be increased as a result of these proposals, but there will also be output and staffing reductions in news, audio and related areas.

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BBC Northern Ireland is proposing to close approximately 35-40 posts to contribute to its £2.3 million savings and reinvestment plans.

“It is hoped the majority of post closures will be achieved through voluntary redundancy, with some opportunities for redeployment within BBC Northern Ireland. The proposals are now subject to consultation with staff and trade unions.

“Some of BBC Northern Ireland’s output will be impacted by these plans, including the breakfast-time news programme on BBC Radio Foyle and Inside Business on BBC Radio Ulster.”

“Efforts have been made to limit the effect of proposed changes on the scope and benefits of BBC services in Northern Ireland and local staff teams.”

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Adam Smyth, Interim Director, BBC Northern Ireland, said: “These are challenging times and we face some difficult choices, none of which are easy. We have to find monies to maintain and develop our local presence on BBC iPlayer and to absorb cost pressures across different aspects of our work. Our concern in all of this will be to safeguard audience value and benefit and to remain mindful of the impact that this announcement will have on BBC staff in Northern Ireland.”

Several UK-wide operational and staffing reviews are also ongoing and these may impact other locally-based teams and roles next year, the BBC said.