Luton North MP grills BBC bosses on jobs for young people

“I will continue to push business bosses to focus on areas like Luton, where the talent and aspiration of our young people is unmatched”
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

Luton North MP has grilled media bosses and urged them to not move jobs “out of reach” of talented young people in the town.

At Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee hearing, Sarah Owen spoke to senior BBC staff, including Director-General Tim Davie, about inclusion and accessibility in the media, arguing that “a more diverse nation deserves a more diverse national broadcaster”. She also urged them to ensure opportunities and apprenticeships are truly open to “all backgrounds”.

In response to Owen’s questioning, Davie conceded that socio-economic diversity and inclusion targets in the BBC’s apprenticeship scheme were not being met. He said: “If there is one area I want to see more of in the apprentice schemes, I would like us to do better in [socio-economic diversity].”

Owen speaking during the Committee meeting. Picture: UK ParliamentOwen speaking during the Committee meeting. Picture: UK Parliament
Owen speaking during the Committee meeting. Picture: UK Parliament

Owen pressed the BBC to ensure that there is a “pipeline of talent” for people “across the UK” to get involved. She mentioned that for Luton’s young people to work in local news, they would have to commute to BBC East’s headquarters in Norwich.

The impact of cuts and mergers in BBC local news risks not just moving jobs out of the local area, said Owen, but also cutting vulnerable people from news, with 80 per centof BBC local radio listeners over 55.

A ‘digital only’ approach pursued through cuts to local radio may alienate these listeners and risk the BBC’s purpose as a ‘public service broadcaster’, argued Owen. She said: “During COVID, radio was particularly vital for keeping people connected, and for public health, and a large number of radio news consumers are vulnerable people with protected characteristics.”

After the session, Owen said: “Every week I meet bright, talented young people interested in broadcasting who would be a real asset to the BBC – but with the closures of local radio stations and studios these jobs are moving out of reach.

“The BBC must reflect on the impact on staff diversity when centralising news output to cities like Norwich, Cambridge and London. Young Lutonians need and deserve high-quality jobs right here in the town, and the UK needs a national broadcaster that reflects the people who live here.

Robert Thompson, the BBC Senior Head of Content Production for London and the East, said: “Our amazing team is made up of those very Lutonians mentioned by Ms Owen. Two of those are our production apprentices just starting their careers at the BBC. Four others are people who started their BBC careers as Journalism Co-Ordinators are now developing as Journalists and Producers in their own right. I couldn’t be prouder of them and the contribution they make every single day.

“I started my journalism career in Luton when the South Beds News Agency offered me work experience and then shifts before getting my first BBC contract. It is a privilege to now be driving the services in the region where I grew up and am fiercely proud of. I want a vibrant and exciting local media market that really delivers for local audiences and an important part of this is truly connecting with new talent.”

He added: “We have not closed radio studios. We are very much open for business.”