Ministers insisted they could not order the BBC to invest in Birmingham as MPs called on the broadcaster to back the city in the House of Commons.
But the Government did seem to suggest that the issue of whether the BBC treats every part of the country fairly could be discussed when its Royal Charter is up for renewal in 2016. MPs and Birmingham City Council are lobbying the BBC to try to reverse a trend which has seen it cut staff and funding from the city – while increasing spending in other regions.
The broadcaster announced in 2011 that it was cutting 100 jobs in factual TV programming at the Birmingham Mailbox site, with the posts moved to Bristol. But it has increased investment in Cardiff, Bristol and Salford.
City leaders met new BBC Director General Tony Hall to discuss proposals to make Birmingham the heart of the BBC’s digital operations.
And MPs have now raised the issue in the Commons.
Gisela Stuart (Lab Birmingham, Edgbaston) asked: “The BBC is of course independent of the Government, but is it not time to have a debate in Government time to remind the BBC of its regional responsibilities and of the fact that there should be some correlation between the licence fees raised in certain regions and the amount of programmes commissioned in those regions?”
Cabinet Minister Andrew Lansley, the leader of the Commons, told her: “It would probably not be appropriate for the Government to raise the matter that she mentions, save, further on, as part of the debate leading to the renewal of the BBC’s charter.”
In a separate Commons session, MP Jack Dromey (Erdington) raised the issue, saying: “Birmingham, historically the city of Pebble Mill, has great BBC traditions. Widespread concern has been expressed that in Britain’s second city, much programme making has been transferred, with the licence fee payer in the midlands no longer receiving value for money.”
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey replied: “I know that the new director-general recognises... that the BBC has a duty to the whole country.”