Category Archives: News
The third lockdown
Memories of five years ago popped up on Facebook. I was on holiday in Tenerife at the time. On previous days I’ve also been reminded of times at the theatre seeing shows or eating a lovely meal in a restaurant. All of which seem a world away in lockdown, while staying at home.
The view has been dusted with snow in a winter wonderland. Part of me thankful actually – that I don’t have to attempt to walk or drive anywhere on the icy, slippery ground! Having an open fire makes everything all the more cosy during the cold weather too. Toasted marshmallows, a bonus.
It may feel like Groundhog Day but the reasons why everyone needs to stay at home are just as stark, arguably even more so, with new variants of the virus able to spread more than when the Covid-19 was novel.
In my circle of friends, I’m hearing of more of loved ones who have died after contracting the virus. There are those who do recover too but, taking people I know personally as a straw sample, the virus seems incredibly prevalent. The number of deaths in the UK is nearing 100,000. Each person is so much more than a statistic, leaving behind heartbroken family and friends. My thoughts are with everyone affected.
Watching the series of reports by Clive Myrie on BBC News this week gave an eye-opening insight of what it’s like for the NHS workers on the frontline of the pandemic. It’s an emotional watch but important to report on the reality of what’s happening. Exemplary journalism, showing the hard work of these key workers.
There’s a lot of information to process daily. During tough times, like these, there’s general consensus that it’s sometimes good to switch off the news and take a break. Of course, for journalists, this is impossible. It’s good to see a new platform has started recently called Newsbreak, set up by Tom Hourigan. It urges journalists and people involved in the media industry to take a break from the news:
Over the past 10 months, I’ve become much better at this sort of self care. After work, I try to do something completely different. Watch a film or TV show to get lost in, I find sitcoms particularly good for this. Play a computer game or read a book, anything really. I’m not that skilled at cooking or baking (I wish I was!) but can understand why that’s become a popular lockdown pastime, because it’s great to focus on something completely different.
While working from home, I usually don’t have weekend shifts. I keep an eye on major developments but use this time to disconnect. Push notifications that pop up on phones and tablets can be distracting, so I switch my phone off and don’t look at social media. It means I’m relatively hard to get hold of for a day or two, but it feels liberating. Another tip is to take annual leave when you can. It doesn’t matter that we can’t go on holiday, a break from the intensity of what we’re going through is important.
I’m hoping it won’t be too long before I can get the vaccine. As someone with underlying health conditions, it’ll give me a bit more of my life back. I expect restrictions will continue to be around for a while yet but it’d be a step back closer to normality at least.
At work (from home), I’ve continued on the shift of late producer of Mike Zeller at Breakfast for BBC Radio Cumbria. A great mix of all the latest news and fun features of what’s happening around the county. One of the guests I set up for the programme recently was Dr Mark Toshner, who was involved in the clinical trials for the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine. He gave an extended interview on the programme, which was an informative and insightful listen. You can hear a snippet of it here:
I’m glad to say that my website has been successfully updated and can now be accessed through www.katybooth.com If you missed my review of last year that’s available here. I’ll continue to update this blog throughout 2021, perhaps not as regularly as I did last year when experiences of the pandemic were new. It’s a way to document these strange times at least. Cathartic to write about and, I hope, interesting for you to read too.
Take care and stay safe x
A-level results day: my first time on radio
I had a wonderful time at college and each year that A-level results day comes around it brings back fond memories. Thoughts of the choices that lay ahead, the nerves, the anticipation. It was also the first time my voice was ever heard on the radio. Yes, I was one of the students who opened their results envelope on-air. It was August 2007 at Parrs Wood Sixth Form in Didsbury, Manchester. As well as the usual hustle and bustle in the common room, there were also a lot of journalists gathered.
The circumstances why were tragic; A member of our year group, Kesha Wizzart, had been murdered in her home a month earlier, along with her mother and brother. I didn’t know Kesha very well but we had both been awarded the same scholarship to study at the University of Manchester and I got to know her through that. I went on to study English language, linguistics and film studies, whereas Kesha would have studied law. After news of the 18-year-old’s death broke, it sent shockwaves among our tight-knit student community. Kesha was never far from our thoughts on results day – she had taken her exams but never got to find out the results. Balloons were released in her memory.
That’s why there was a lot of media attention, as well as covering the tribute to Kesha, the journalists also collected vox pops from students, like me, opening their results. I was interviewed on my local commercial radio station in Stockport, Imagine FM – a station I actually freelanced at years later. There were so many people being spoken to that day I never thought a clip of me would even be included in news bulletins. Then, as I was driving home, off to celebrate with a few friends, my name was introduced and a clip played. It must have only been short – I couldn’t really make it out – because there was so much screaming from everyone I was with! Meanwhile, my mum managed to record my 15 seconds of fame onto a cassette tape, which is a memento of the day she still has.
In my career, I’ve had the chance to be on the other end of microphone on A-level results day. I’ve reported live on location into programmes for 2BR and The Bee in Lancashire. As a journalist, I love the buzz about results day – all the excitement and expectation. It’s been a privilege to be small part of the students’ memorable day. I wonder if, like me, any of the students I spoke to will end up working in radio one day? I hope so.
A-level results day is something that comes round each year and is a challenge in newsrooms in terms of how to keep the storytelling fresh. The colleges, understandably, want to showcase the year’s high achievers but I think we need to try to keep it as representative and realistic as possible, in terms of how we portray attainment. Not every student studies A-levels; there are a range of other vocational further education qualifications. Of course, there are a lot of happy people on results days – and congratulations to them. However, not everyone achieves the grades they wanted and that’s also absolutely fine too. Exam results do not define us as people, it’s what we do with or without them that counts.
This year’s coverage of results day will be different and there’s no disputing where the story will go in running orders. Due to coronavirus, students weren’t able to sit their final exams and grades have had to be based on predicted results and other formula. That’s why I’m sure we’ll remember the class of 2020 in years to come – I wish them all the best for the future.
Dealing with breaking news
This week the front and back pages of newspapers have been filled with news of Liverpool Football Club being crowned Premier League champions. However, in what seems like an eternity ago – but was actually just a week beforehand – I was getting some other sport breaking news to air. In what is a big story in my patch of Cumbria, Barrow AFC were promoted to the English Football League for the first time in 48 years.
Many followers of current affairs will be familiar with “breaking news” as a banner on news channels or smartphone push notifications to describe anything new or developments to an existing story. That’s one take which somewhat dilutes the term, I think. The kind I’ll be discussing in this blog post is the sort that, as a radio producer, makes you completely rethink a programme and turn items in a running order around.
Breaking news is the bread and butter of journalism; it’s something to be enthusiastic about, rather than panic. These are often times when we produce some of the audience’s most memorable moments of our output. Often, but not always, it will happen at unexpected moments – at the end of a shift, when you have made plans after work, for example. The news of Barrow’s promotion certainly wasn’t unexpected but happened right at the end of my shift.
Due to the nature of breakfast programmes on BBC local radio, which are broadcast from very early in the morning, there’s an afternoon producer who takes over looking after the programme from the morning producer when their shift finishes. The role includes reacting to the day’s developments as well as setting up content throughout the afternoon and into the evening. The role of ‘late prod’ is on a rota for the news team at BBC Radio Cumbria and I’ve been doing my most recent stint for the last month, while working from home.
It was 19:00 on Thursday, 18 June. I’d just subscribed to a Sky Sports day pass so I could watch my team, Manchester City, play their first game after the season break, due to the coronavirus pandemic. I’d finished setting up the next morning’s breakfast programme and was out of the loop while I’d sat down to have tea. The call from a colleague followed to inform me the announcement had been made – Barrow has been promoted.
It was not a surprise; due to the nature of this year, the non-league season wasn’t able to be completed. Therefore, the final standings were decided by a vote of all clubs in the league. When the season was suspended, Barrow were top of the league and became champions. Ironically, 48 years earlier the team had actually been voted out of the English Football League, as was the protocol at the time. The Bluebirds hadn’t even finished bottom of the league that season either. It’s reported the decision was made due to where the town is located and how long it could take some away teams to travel to the Holker Street ground.
I logged back onto the computer in my home office, that I had only five minutes earlier shut down, and began moving items around the running order. Previously, a plan had been devised on how the breakfast programme the day after any possible promotion should sound. It was a case of implementing that and ringing round some guests that had already been set up to ask if they wouldn’t mind being put on hold. All were very understanding of the circumstances.
A lot of liaising was done with my colleagues in the south of the county to set up certain pieces and deliver kit to the commentator, so he could appear live outside the Holker Street ground in the morning. Then guests that had been set up in advance had to be confirmed. Once all that was in place, I allowed myself a 45 minute break to at least be able to watch the second half of the football match that I had initially intended to. After that, I finished writing cues and drafting questions. The whole four-hour programme had to be re-worked and I finished putting everything in place in the early hours of the morning.
The advantage of working from home is that at least I didn’t have a commute to contend with after I’d finished and just went straight to bed. It’s part of the job to be flexible and hearing the programme go out live the next day makes it all worthwhile – the jubilation in the fans’ voices and the elation of those who work at the club. It’s always nice to play a part in such a celebratory programme. I believe it showcases the importance and value of local radio to be at the heart of communities like that, reflecting what matters to the people who live there. It wasn’t the first time I’d dealt with breaking news during my career and it, almost certainly, won’t be the last.
Timing is everything
Listening to the latest episode of The Diversity Gap podcast on Spotify, something instantly struck a chord with me: “Timing is everything”.
“There are some thoughts you can share… and they fall completely flat. It’s almost as if no one was listening. But then, you can share that same thought in the right cultural moment and it sets the world on a different trajectory altogether.”Bethaney Wilkinson – The Diversity Gap podcast.
Episode: Building equity from the ground up with Dr. Darnisa Amante-Jackson.
You could make a statement at one point in time and nobody would take any notice but you could say it at another moment in time and it resonates. I feel that’s what we’re currently witnessing for the Black Lives Matter movement. For years, decades and even centuries people in the black community have been speaking of their views about prejudice. Now others are taking notice.
In news for something to be on the agenda there needs to be a ‘peg’, something to hang a story on. This could be an anniversary, event or development. The death of George Floyd was that moment. He died in Minneapolis, Minnesota, when a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
I cannot profess to be an expert in racial issues. I’m a white woman of privilege; someone who has experienced prejudice in life but in a different way to that of racial tension or oppression. However, I’m someone who can hopefully be seen as an ally, who’s passionate about diversity, inclusion and equality. I’ve tried to educate myself in the issues that are being discussed, watched the coverage, read articles and spoken to black people to hear their views.
It should not have to take the death of a man to make people take notice. When anyone raises concerns over the way they are treated we, as a 21st century society, must listen. (Not just pay lip-service. Lip-service is akin to ignorance.) Then, if necessary, make any changes that come out of those conversations to quell inequality.
Systematic changes can take time but, as Bethaney Wilkinson says in The Diversity Gap podcast “timing is everything”. Social change is possible and maybe the time for that in terms of race relations is now. We’ve already seen global protests, statues taken down and police officers charged, in the three weeks since George Floyd’s death.
“Diversity is about dignity. It’s not about metrics and marketing and money. It’s about real people, real stories, real lives.”Bethaney Wilkinson – The Diversity Gap podcast.
Episode: Building equity from the ground up with Dr. Darnisa Amante-Jackson.
Racism is wrong. Diversity is something to be celebrated. And, when prejudice occurs, it must not be ignored.
Concorde at 50
It’s 50 years since the most beautiful airliner the world has ever seen took to the skies. I’ve had a soft spot for Concorde many years and wanted to mark the anniversary of its first British test flight by explaining why the aircraft is special to me.
Despite being retired from air travel, Concorde remains a pride of British and French engineering as a mainstay of supersonic flight – reaching Mach 2, twice the speed of sound, at an incredible 1,350 miles an hour.
Aviation is in my blood on both sides of the family, so much so that in the first careers test I did at school the results indicated that I should work in that industry. My uncle was an air steward for British Airways and my Mum, Dad and auntie all worked at Fairey Engineering in Stockport, which was originally a manufacturer of military aircraft.
As you might expect, I grew up living under the flight path of Manchester Airport (some may call it Ringway) and could see the line of take offs and descents from my bedroom window. The site of the Stockport air disaster in 1967 isn’t too far away either.
One particular occasion in the school playground, the whistle blew and everyone had to stand still and listen to the teacher for instruction. It seemed far too early to go inside, but instead we were told to look to the sky. Concorde was flying overhead and it was a magnificent sight and sound to experience.
This didn’t sound like a usual aircraft landing, there wasn’t a sonic boom of course as that was forbidden over towns and cities. The sound of the airliner was louder but smooth. I also saw the inimitable streamlined shape from below with the outline of the wings and a “snoop droop” nose sketching a silhouette into the sky, as the landed gear was lowed. All I can describe it as is a magical sight to witness that has stayed with me.
Concorde retired from the skies in 2003. That was after a crash in France due to a catalogue of errors three years earlier had affected some public feeling towards the aircraft. Attitudes towards supersonic travel changed but the fondness the pubic holds towards Concorde still exists. That was witnessed in the last flypast over Buckingham Palace, alongside the RAF Red Arrows. The last time it would be seen in the sky.
Nowadays Concorde is a tourist attraction at sites across the UK, including the Runway Visitor Park at Manchester Airport. Tour guides take you onto the plane and you can also sit where the likes of Sir David Frost, Dame Joan Collins or even The Queen would have travelled.
It makes you wonder how such a splendid aircraft came to be grounded? But in this era of budget air travel it’s clear to see how it happened. Now Brexit is on the cards (or is it…) finances and feelings are elsewhere when it comes to supersonic flight. However, the Concorde era will remain an extraordinary period of aviation history and an example of the great heights that can be achieved.
Doctor Who: The thirteenth regeneration – unlucky for some?
I’m the sort of person who laughs in the face of superstition. Who actively seeks out locker number 13 in the gym, for example. It’s almost always free. Some people are superstitious and there are some Doctor Who fans – known as Whovians – who think the casting of the thirteenth Doctor is indeed unlucky.
The actor just happens to be a woman: Jodie Whittacker. I think it’s a brilliant decision.
Firstly, let me start with this caveat: I won’t begrudge anyone an opinion and it’s fine for you to disagree with me. It’s fine for you not to like the casting. (I take a while to come round to the idea of a new Doctor after each regeneration myself.) It’s even fine for you to object to the casting because she’s a woman and it breaks the tradition of the male canon of actors we’ve seen previously in the role.
What I do take issue with, however, is some of the language I saw on social media after the announcement. Antiquated statements like: “shouldn’t she be in the kitchen instead”, “she won’t be able to park the TARDIS” or this Tweet from Katie Hopkins:
I describe this as ‘subtle sexism’. Even though it’s garish and unsubtle in nature, it is subtle sexism because it’s meant to be ‘tongue-in-cheek’. Joking doesn’t cut it though; it’s just as offensive and I’m inclined to think these statements are more likely a true word spoken in jest.
You don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist and, as Kate Hopkins’ sentiments show, you don’t have to be male to be a misogynist. Misogyny is really a response of fear. It’s the ‘alpha-male’ culture where people fight men to get to the top of their trade. Nowadays the pool is more equal but larger. The quest to get noticed is gradually becoming between both men and woman, in many industries. When comments alluding to the subordination of woman arise in conversations such as this Doctor Who debate I believe it’s down to a fundamental, even subconscious, resistance to gender equality.
It’s a shame it’s taken so many regenerations to get to this stage with the show. If a woman had been cast as The Doctor earlier people would have got use to the idea by now. I find it actually quite sad that having a female cast in the show’s title role causes such animosity in 2017. If there was true equality then it wouldn’t be an issue.
What I love about the series, and the sci-fi genre in general, is that anything is possible. Originally, The Doctor could only regenerate a number of times but we have surpassed that now due to the creative license of the writers. This same creative license applies to a gender change; we’re dealing with fiction after all. The Doctor has four hearts, so why does it matter whether he / she has a penis a a vagina? Can she exterminate the Daleks convincingly? As a Whovian, that’s what I’m interested in.
If we can have a female Prime Minister running the country then surely we can have a female Time Lord travelling the universe. The only thing that really matters is whether Jodie Whittacker is a good enough actor to play such an iconic role. She did open her hand very well in the teaser trailer but, until I’ve seen her first episode, I’ll reserve judgement. I wasn’t familiar with much of her work beforehand but from what I’ve researched it certainly bodes well for next series.
A change in ideology of gender equality takes time. As some people’s sentiments after the casting announcement indicate, we’re not quite there yet. The casting of a female Doctor is a step closer though. Hopefully, before long she’ll just be accepted – without any digs, jibes or fuss – as part of the canon of work in this extraordinary series.
Five decades since it began (albeit with a hiatus in the middle) and the programme still prompts such in-depth discussion about social issues. Doctor Who is as important, relevant and socially revolutionary as ever.
I’ll leave the last word to the legend that is Colin Baker, who played the sixth incarnation of The Doctor:
Mancunian and proud: The aftermath of the Manchester attack
It feels like so much has happened in the month since the suicide bombing at Manchester Arena, so much bad news, so much terror. For every negative emotion though there has also been unity and love.
The explosion was literally close to home. Most people I know have been there to see events. They’re often some of the happiest times of our lives. No doubt, that’s how the people who’d been to see Ariana Grande on 22 May felt too. Until just after 22:30, when the explosion happened and everything changed. That night 22 people never came home and countless lives changed forever.
It’s a tragedy that’s affected people beyond the city’s boundaries. For me personally, four of the victims were from Lancashire and, as news of the atrocity filtered through, it unfolded that I knew one of the people who died in the blast; I’d gone to the same high school as 29-year-old Martyn Hett.
I’m from Stockport originally, the same town as Martyn. It’s six miles away from Manchester and most Stopfordian’s are proud to call themselves Mancunian. Just like the majority of the country and beyond did after the attack. In uniting against evil, showing our empathy and solidarity, we’re all Mancunian because being Manc is about much more than geography. The bee is a symbol of our undying spirit of love, peace and hope.
Even now, I can remember vividly the night of the bomb. I got an inkling from social media, my first thoughts were that surely something of this scale must be a hoax? It was a concert with a young following after all. But terrorism knows no boundaries.
I turned on the radio and as the details began to unfold it just got more and more horrifying as Greater Manchester Police confirmed fatalities. Understandably, there was a sombre feeling that followed. I was one of the breakfast show producers that week at BBC Radio Lancashire and we were reflecting the mood in our programme. It gave me chance to get in touch with my Manchester contacts from home. One thing struck me straight away from speaking to people – resilience. Ours is a city that will never be beaten.
LISTEN: The report I put together for the four Lancashire victims of the Manchester bomb, which aired on BBC Radio Lancashire a week after the attack… (Blog post continues below.)
Of course, there’s grief and the nation mourns together. We must reflect on the evil but we then must counter that by remembering those we have lost and reflecting on the hope there was in the aftermath. Hope came in many forms: Tony Walsh’s ‘Our Place’ poem, the ‘One Love’ concert staged by Ariana Grande and her team or the people who went out to the memorials to water the floral tributes.
What really resonated for me were the outbursts of Oasis’s ‘Don’t look back in anger’, which has rightfully become an anthem of Manchester. My family are all Mancunian and the majority of my education happened in Manchester. I went to sixth form college at Parrs Wood in Didsbury and then studied for my undergrad degree at The University of Manchester, so have spent a lot of time in the city during my formative years. The bee is a great emblem because there is such a buzz. There’s many things I love about Manchester, but most of all, I love how diverse the place is.
If you stand on Market Street in the city centre, for example, you will see all kinds of people all going about their business, the same as anyone else. In my experience, there’s very little discrimination because people are so accepting and friendly. The ripples of acts of terrorism don’t just happen at the time though. It can affect people for years to come, in different ways, if you let it. It may manifest as fear or prejudice, either subliminally or overtly, but that’s what we must reject. It creates a divide and that isn’t what our Mancunian spirit is about. I have tickets to go to a gig at the arena at the end of the year, if it’s open by then. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go there ever again but that’s not the right attitude to have. Hopefully I can go and have a good time.
There is an unquantifiable sadness – we’ve had vigils for the victims and now the funerals are taking place one by one. I went to the vigil for Martyn Hett in Heaton Moor Park and it was cathartic in ways I hadn’t imagined. To see so many people coming together to celebrate his life was truly heart-warming, after so much heartbreak.
Manchester stands proud of our history, our culture and our people. We always have and always will… And as the lyrics of the song go: “Don’t look back in anger, I heard you say.”
General election fever
Have you recovered from all the election coverage yet? For journalists, snap election is something we weren’t planning and had no control over but it was actually a fabulous showcase for our work, across all platforms.
I’ve now voted in three general elections but have also covered them for three separate radio stations. All different formats and I’ve had a range of roles each time.
2010 – I was a first time voter and also in the final year of my undergrad degree at the University of Manchester. I was heavily involved in our student radio station Fuse FM as part of the committee who ran the station. Although I presented programmes and had read a few bulletins, news wasn’t really my area at the time. As ironic as that sounds, considering I now live and breathe news! I was Head of Marketing and had responsibility for the ‘Street Team’. We were heavily involved in generating content and vox pops from voters. We were also really excited that BBC 5Live had decided to broadcast from the students’ union during the night.
I’d been invited to take part in local community radio station, North Manchester FM‘s, election coverage as a studio guest. Charlie Walduck was roving reporter at the count at Manchester Town Hall, providing inserts and interviews with candidates. It was an ambitious project for a community station on limited resources. It was the forerunner broadcast for me to apply for my own show and then becoming a presenter on the station.
2015 – Five years later, I was working in radio professionally for commercial radio group UKRD’s stations The Bee and 2BR. Lancashire Election Night Live was another big broadcast; the first time the two stations had simulcast together. I was reporting from the town hall on the night. Blackburn is a safe seat with a long Labour legacy. However, this particular year was interesting because, the town was getting a new MP with the retirement of former cabinet minister, Jack Straw. I provided live inserts to the all-night broadcast including scene sets, interviews with candidates and conducted the live victory interview with Kate Hollern MP.
2017 – We were doing it all over again, sooner than anyone thought! This time I’d moved stations a couple of junctions westbound on the M65 for BBC Radio Lancashire. Yet another ambitious project! In the lead up to the election, I was one of the breakfast producers who sourced content for the OB’s on Graham Liver’s ‘Big Election Breakfast Tour’ coming live from constituencies all around the county. Along with the Lancashire pop up living room “double-gussetted long-handled Graham Liver at breakfast” bags were handed out to listeners in every corner of the county.
On results day itself, I felt like I’d drawn a particularly long straw, reading our afternoon news bulletins. I love being part of big news days when listeners have a real thirst for developing information. It’s always a privilege to be able to deliver it to them, I’d broadcast previously the day after the EU referendum and when Theresa May was originally announced as Prime Minister, so was well up for whatever the day would bring…
I compiled and read our two extended 10-minute-long bulletins at 13:00 and 17:00. Keeping us journos on our toes, Theresa May began speaking on the steps of Downing Street at around 12:55! We got a clip of her saying she would form a government in the top story. That’s what I love about bulletin reading; the adrenaline rush you get when news is just coming in or changing. On results day, the breaking news buzz didn’t waiver all day long, with new lines coming in all the time.
Depending on your political views, general elections can mean a lot of different things for different people. There’s just some of my memorable moments. We might be making some more soon. Who knows? As we’ve seen over the last seven years – anything can happen in politics!
Nations and Regions Media Conference 2017 review: Long live local radio
This week I went to the Nations and Regions Media Conference at The Lowry in Salford. Since the Radio Festival changed venue and moved down south, I was looking forward to a conference of a similar vein in the old stomping ground.
I should have known from the ticket price (£90 early-bird rate) that this was aimed more at executive level, rather than for those of us who work in production. It would take a journalist working at some commercial stations around two days salary to pay to go to all events, adding travel and parking costs etc. The redeeming feature was the price did include lunch though – bonus!
One of the early sessions about investigative journalism was insightful; there was a lot of wistful reminiscing to the past about the likes of ITV’s long-gone ‘World in Action’. It was a treat to hear from director Paul Greengrass, who used to work on the programme before heading off to Hollywood. What I took from this session was journalists are more than ever required to “show their workings” in this era of “Fake News”, as President Trump coined it. It means, due to this vigour, the quality of work broadcasters are producing is actually more reliable. Maybe not all of Trump’s media criticisms are so damming for the industry, after all?
The second day got underway and I was enjoying debates on various issues. MP for Wigan, Lisa Nandy, shared her view that – because MediaCity now exists – that doesn’t automatically mean northern views are catered for. “The North” doesn’t stop at Salford and start again in Scotland. There’s a whole wealth of audience members, stories and talent that’ll be missed, if that’s a widely-held belief.
I hope it isn’t, but have taken calls from people in the past who have made humorous misconceptions. While I can forgive statements like: “Is Bolton in Lancashire?”, because it’s on the border. It only takes a quick glance at a map to know the answer to: “Is Blackburn in Manchester?”
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Karen Bradley, announced there will be a consultation to move some of Channel 4’s staff out of London to “wherever it can be found” in the UK. As someone who grew up in Greater Manchester, I know how amazing the opportunities at MediaCityUK are: the area’s been completely regenerated and is buzzing. However, if every major media outlet sets up there, Salford will become as much of an isolated bubble as London is perceived to be.
As a regional staple, I was disappointed with the lack of mentions local radio got at the conference. People who work in that area make a limited amount of resources spread far and wide in order to create content. Talented staff are serving parts of the audience that other platforms may not reach. At times, providing vital information – the recent Lancashire floods are a prime example. I would urge any sceptic to spend a day in a local radio newsroom – either commercial or BBC – and see for themselves. Yet newsrooms in local stations are constantly under threat from cuts.
BBC local radio as an example; there are stations all across the country. Audience reach of all of them combined must be enough to match a national network station. Surely that makes it eligible to warrant a discussion? The audience is more concentrated in each TSA and the issues differ from place to place, but that makes what’s on offer so unique.
It was infectious hearing Head of BBC Radio, Bob Shennan’s, positivity for the medium and his enthusiasm that another golden age of radio is “still to come”, even if it may be different from what has gone before. Due to the way the discussion went though, ill-fated Channel 4 Radio got more of a mention than local radio, which is still very much thriving on the dials.
At the end of a thought-provoking conference, I was driving home listening to a network station when the news came on. There was a Lancashire story in the bulletin and my ears pricked up, because that’s where I live and work. The reader made the easy mistake of pronouncing Barrowford, in Pendle, as: “BARROW-F’D”. You need local knowledge to know it’s actually pronounced: ‘BARROW-FORD’. There’s no way of knowing this by reading off a script alone. I carried on my journey explicitly aware that local radio is still as important as ever.
Lancashire County Council slash services in budget
Lancashire County Councillors voted through all proposed cuts at their annual budget meeting.
It sees £65 million slashed from services, including funding for five museums across the county, some bus routes in rural areas and other services, such as libraries.
All elected members were present in what would arguably be one of the most important meetings of the year. Labour councillor, David Borrow, began proceedings saying the budget outlined had been some of the “most difficult decisions” they have ever had to make.
Cllr Borrow said, if current spending continued, there would be no reserves left to be used in emergency situations, by the 2018/2019 budget. The Preston North West councillor said in May the cabinet had to make the decisions from working with multi-agencies. He commented that other Conservative controlled councils, such as Surrey, are not facing such financial difficulties: “Lancashire has been one of the hardest hit.”
The government’s ‘transitional fund’ has given the county £2.3 million. In comparison, Surrey has received £24 million. Hampshire gets £18 million and the Prime Minister’s home county of Oxfordshire will receive £9 million.
“There will be cuts for years to come”, Councillor Borrow said. “I know how important it is for all museums to continue.” Views and expressions of int
interest in running the facilities are being sought up until March.
It was noted that the highways budget is being looked at “which should reassure those who are the victims of the floods.” Cllr Borrow went on to say that, at the beginning of the coalition government (in 2010) spending was cut for flood defences.
Continuing to criticise the conservative government, Cllr Borrow said “the public health grant has now been cut by 1.7 million.”
[PHOTO: Councillor David Borrow addresses the chamber from the Cabinet.]
Former leader of the county councillor, Geoff Driver, was next to stand. The Preston North member was presenting an amendment of from the Conservatives to Labour’s budget plans. Cllr Driver said that, when he was in charge, the Tories left more money in the reserves than they inherited. “This administration has not helped itself”, he said. “There is a corporate strategy but no plan.”
Cllr Driver then criticised the council’s handling of turning the listed building of Preston Bus Station into a Youth Zone. Speaking of the competition to fund a new design he said: “there will be insufficient funds… It’s absolute madness!
“It’s alright saving money for a rainy day, but it’s raining now.” The Conservative budget amendment to the proposed budget mainly looked at financing services by borrowing money to fund them, rather than cutting. Councillor Graham Gooch was one of a series of members who spoke in the debate that followed. The South Ribble West representative said: “No consultations had been done before these budget decisions were made. The decisions have not been made properly.”
A lively discussion broke out with councillor John Fillis, from Skelmersdale East. It left Burnley chairperson Margaret Brindle reminding members to show respect: “This is not a bear pit”, she said.
Sitting near the back of the chamber, alongside Independent members, Lancashire’s only Green Party councillor, Gina Dowding from Lancaster, said: “The government’s financial settlement did not give us any more money.” Cllr Dowding gave an example of the Public Health cuts earlier announced. “[Chancellor] George Osbourne plans for a ‘Northern Powerhouse’. Here in Lancashire, he’s only focusing on Northern workhouses.”
Liberal Democrat, David Whipp, of West Craven spoke next. He said his party propose a “cushion” to allow the “cuts to library services to evolve.” He said he has “issues with axing the parish bus initiative” and the Lib Dems approach the budget with ‘compassion and compromise’.”
“I haven’t met with any conservatives [about the budget] then they trot this out at the last minute. Well, we won’t be supporting it”, Cllr Whipp said. The chamber voted on the Conservative amendment and the motion was lost on an eight vote margin.
The Liberal Democrats then proposed their amendment and councillors voted against that also. However, all Conservative councillors abstained. Tory Councillor Paul White, of Pendle East, commented on how his party should “commend [the Lib Dems] for having the same aims [as them]”, even though they chose to propose it differently.”
Independents and the one Green member were next to propose their amendment. They suggested a further £3 million contingency to be made available from the reserves to facilitate the transition of services. As well as cross party cabinet groups be set up to explore and support the transition of services and arrangements. This motion was passed, despite 34 members abstaining.
Next up was a proposal on bus subsidies by the Conservatives, focusing on reinstating transport to day-centres. They planned to do this again by borrowing, rather than using budget reserves or charging. Their proposals included green energy plans and under-spending on concessionary travel. This was the motion that had the most support from the public gallery, with protesters from Chipping and Ribchester staying on to find out the result.
Tory councillor, Michael Green, representing Leyland, said: “Cutting bus services attack the most vulnerable people in society; those who can’t afford to run a car, unlike most of us who will drive our cars home tonight. It is an attack on the elderly, who can no longer drive. It’s an attack on young people, who catch the bus to get to college or an apprenticeship. It’s also an attack on town centres that will lose out on business because of these cuts.”
Labour’s David Borrow said: “We have barely enough funds to deliver statutory services. Can we afford the 4.5 million of this service? We are pretending to ourselves and those in the public gallery. Some of things we have to cut [in this budget] are horrendous. We need to give the council a fighting chance.”
A tight vote on bus subsidies followed. 40 councillors voted for the motion, 42 were against and one person abstained. Therefore, the motion was lost on a slim margin of two votes. That means some bus routes will now no longer operate. Residents of the Ribble Valley, could see a reduction in services by next week.
[PHOTO: Bus campaigners protest before the meeting.]
Councillor Michael Green gave the next Conservative amendment. He mentioned he thought the previous bus subsidy would be passed, which explains the focus of their next proposal. He wanted to see £500,000 for waste services that are not needed in East Lancashire be invested back into highways. Cllr Green said: “in the grand scheme of the budget, £500,000 is not actually a lot of money.”
Labour’s Councillor Borrow said he: “can’t see any reason to oppose this amendment.” He spoke about when he goes back home in Yorkshire he can see the roads get worse and that Lancashire should be proud of the state of the highways. The motion was voted for unanimously, although Labour’s Cllr John Filis did shout: “Why not give it to the bus people?” during the discussion.
Entering the seventh hour of the meeting, the last vote of the night was whether the budget cuts would happen. The chamber broke out into passionate debate from members. Leader of Lancashire County Council, Jennifer Mein of Preston, stood to tell members she understands it’s late in the day but she was “ashamed and appalled” by members’ behaviour when discussions got heated.
The budget was agreed and passed by councillors, meaning all proposed cuts to services now intend to be carried out.
(My article was first published on The Bee and 2BR‘s websites and is kindly re-blogged here with permission.)