The BBC’s dedicated political channel is facing significant cuts as the corporation seeks to make £1bn in savings to the overall BBC budget by March 2022.
According to people with knowledge of the plans, BBC Parliament will scale back its programming from the autumn including ending its rolling coverage of UK political party conferences for the first time since the 1960s.
Staffing levels at the channel, which was launched in 1998, are set to be cut to single figures while nearly all original programming will come to an end, the people said.
The broadcaster said: “BBC Parliament will continue to provide substantial coverage of the UK’s parliaments and assemblies.” One insider added that coverage of party conferences would continue through news bulletins and the rolling BBC News Channel. Parliament is also now live streamed through its official website.
According to the BBC’s recent annual report, the corporation spends £2m on BBC Parliament, compared with £59m for the BBC News Channel. Although its reach is just one per cent of the UK population, its cost per user is lower than BBC One, BBC Two and the children’s CBBC channel.
Damian Collins, a Conservative MP and the former chair of the Commons’ digital, culture, media and sport select committee, said he would write to Tim Davie, BBC director-general, to protest at the cuts.
“The parliament channel plays a really important role in showing democracy to viewers. These cuts will have a massively detrimental impact to public service broadcasting,” he said.
Jo Stevens, Labour’s shadow culture secretary, said that “public scrutiny of the work of politicians is an essential part of our democracy.”
She added: “The role that BBC Parliament has played in allowing the public to hear directly from the House of Commons on their TV screens rather than just snippets of debate as part of news bulletins has been invaluable. To reduce that service is not in the interests of the public or democracy.”
As part of the changes, BBC Parliament’s special daily shows covering debates will also end. The Day and Week in Parliament programmes will be replaced from September with a new weekly highlights programme, called Politics UK, which will be broadcast on BBC2 on Friday lunchtimes.
Political events beyond Westminster, such as speeches and lectures, will no longer be covered by BBC Parliament. There is also expected to be a significant reduction in the channel’s coverage of the House of Lords and select committees. The corporation hopes to mitigate the cuts with a new Friday addition of the Politics Live programme.
The department for digital, culture, media and sport said: “The government sets the objectives of the BBC. How it meets them is a matter for the BBC and not the government.”