BBC local radio cuts 'could harm thousands of people registered visually impaired in Luton'

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Ofcom licensing guidance says BBC local radio stations must provide a certain number of hours of original content each year

Cuts to local radio services have been a travesty to visually impaired people, a national campaign group has warned.

It comes as the number of blind and partially blind people registered in Luton has been revealed, with the Royal National Institute of Blind People warning the true number could be even higher.

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Latest NHS Digital figures, which are only released every three years, show around 2,085 people in Luton were registered visually impaired as of March.

BBC headquarters in Central London. Picture: Ian West/PA ImagesBBC headquarters in Central London. Picture: Ian West/PA Images
BBC headquarters in Central London. Picture: Ian West/PA Images

This included approximately 1,150 people who were completely or severely blind, and a further 935 who were partially impaired. All figures are rounded to the nearest five.

Across England, around 270,000 people were registered as visually impaired as of March – of which 130,000 were severely or fully impaired. Of these, 10,500 were children, with around 725 based in the East of England.

Sarah Gayton, street access campaign coordinator for the National Federation of the Blind UK, said the BBC's recent cuts to local radio services hit visually impaired people harder, as they rely on the radio for information, entertainment and companionship.

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Ofcom licensing guidance says BBC local radio stations must provide a certain number of hours of original content each year.

But the corporation has sought to make savings in the face of high inflation and a licence fee freeze, including plans for local radio stations to share more content and transmit fewer programmes unique to their areas.

Ms Gayton said: "We are not going away, and all needs need to be taken into account. Ofcom, the BBC and the Government are not listening, and the way blind and visually impaired people are being treated is abhorrent.

"We feel we have been left behind, and are not being listened to. It is down to the BBC and the Government to provide people with blind and visual impairments with local radio."

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A BBC spokesperson said: "We are fully compliant with our Ofcom-set operating licence requirements and will report on our compliance in July, alongside our annual report."

A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said: "We remain disappointed at the BBC's decision to reduce parts of its local output and ministers have met with BBC bosses to express concerns about these plans.

"The BBC must continue providing distinctive and genuinely local services that reflect and represent local communities. Ofcom will ensure the BBC is held to account in delivering these duties."

Some 20,300 people across England registered as visually impaired last year, of which 9,700 were severely or completely blind.

In Luton, there were around 50 new registrations.

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Vivienne Francis, chief social change officer at the RNIB, said the organisation was surprised to see a decrease in the number of new registrations, and expects "the number of people impacted by sight loss is due to increase dramatically by 2050" due to an increase in risk factors, such as low income and ageing.

Ms Francis said the decrease "points towards there being significant problems in the system whereby people are not routinely being registered".