Caroline Thomson, the BBC’s chief operating officer, has said a reversal of its planned cuts to local radio was “not out of the question” amid growing speculation over a corporation U-turn.
The BBC has faced a growing backlash over planned budget cuts to its 40 local stations in England which will lead to the loss of 280 jobs.
Thomson told a Bafta event about the future of the BBC in central London on Monday: “If we had to reinstate the money, we’d have to cut something else – but it’s not out of the question.”
In a separate question about the BBC’s Delivering Quality First money-saving plans, Thomson confirmed that the corporation had a contingency fund built into its proposals to deal with potentially higher-than-expected levels of inflation.
If inflation falls below the BBC’s expectations then a significant amount of money may be freed up for other purposes.
Thomson’s comments followed BBC director general Mark Thompson’s appearance before the House of Commons public accounts committee on Monday, when he admitted the cuts faced by local radio “at the sharp end … are daunting”.
Thompson said if the budget savings had an impact on the quality, range and effectiveness of local radio then he would “do something about it”, and added: “We don’t want to preside over the decline of local radio.”
It has provoked the biggest public response of any of the cuts outlined by Thompson’s DQF proposals last month.
BBC insiders said indications from senior management were that the proposed changes to local radio would be looked at again.
But it remains to be seen what proportion of the cuts will be reversed.
“There have been reasonably reassuring messages,” said one corporation source. “There has been a pretty effective response from listeners and MPs and the answer from management seems to be: ‘We are listening.’
“There is a sense that something has to be done but how much will be reversed and where will the money come from? Will something else have to be cut?”
The BBC Trust’s public consultations on local radio and DQF come to an end on 21 December. Any changes to the local radio proposals are not expected to be announced until the new year.
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