Concerns grow over editorial standards and low staffing on series, which launched last month
Last modified on Mon 14 Feb 2022 15.49 EST
The BBC has retracted another episode of its new regional current affairs programme amid concerns about editorial standards and low staffing levels on the series.
A senior executive has been parachuted in to help run the BBC One series We Are England, which has been made on a tight budget due to cuts after many experienced reporters took redundancy from newsrooms across England ahead of its launch.
The show launched last month with the promise of explaining big issues through a local lens, with six regional variations going out in the same primetime Wednesday evening slot on BBC One. It replaced the long-running investigative current affairs strand Inside Out, which was axed amid ongoing budget cuts.
Last week, the BBC pulled an episode of We Are England about a Birmingham man called Hanad Hassan at the last minute after the Guardian pointed out that his cryptocurrency had shut down in October, leaving behind many unhappy customers.
The BBC has now retracted a second episode of We Are England, which praised a dance school attended by former Love Island presenter Caroline Flack for its work improving the mental health of children.
The programme failed to mention a recent critical Ofsted report, accessible online, which found that staff had bodyshamed students, leaving them reluctant to eat after lessons, and told them to get “the desired physique” if they wanted to be successful in auditions.
The governors of Bodyworks dance school in Cambridge had resigned due to safeguarding concerns and not been replaced. Students told Ofsted inspectors that “looking beautiful” was more valued by some staff than talent in the performing arts.
Despite this information being easily available online, a BBC article accompanying the programme praised the work on wellbeing and mindfulness at the school without making any mention of the Ofsted criticisms.
A BBC spokesperson said: “This regional programme focused on a school and its work on student wellbeing. It is no longer available to view online as the episode did not include relevant information and context about the school featured. We have also removed a related online article.”
In June 2019 the BBC confirmed that it plans to make most over-75s pay the TV licence fee from 2020. The change will affect around three million households.
The BBC says the annual cost of the free licences is £745m. They argue that maintaining the status quo would have taken up a fifth of its budget, equal to the total amount it spends on all of BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, the BBC News channel, CBBC and CBeebies.
The corporation has said it will continue to provide TV licences to over-75s who claim pension credit, a means-tested benefit designed to help older people. It estimates this proposal will cost it £250m a year, requiring some cuts but no channel closures.
The policy of free TV licences for the over-75s was introduced in 1999 by Labour chancellor, Gordon Brown, with the cost met by the government. However, in 2015 the Conservatives, guided by George Osborne, struck a deal under which the subsidy would be phased out by 2020, with the broadcaster having to shoulder the cost.
The government later gave the BBC responsibility for deciding what to do about the benefit, meaning any unpopular decisions on charging over-75s had to be made by the BBC rather than ministers.
Jim Waterson, Media editor
A senior BBC manager has now been brought in to oversee the rest of the show’s 120-episode run and attempt to stop any further such issues. Stuart Thomas, head of the Midlands at the BBC, will help BBC England’s commissioning chief, Aisling O’Connor, and the We Are England producer, Sarah Trigg, with the rest of the series.
The BBC has seen substantial real-terms cuts to its budget over the last decade and faces further cuts under the licence fee agreement struck by the culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, last month. Although regional newsrooms are often praised by BBC bosses, they have also faced deep financial cuts and lost many experienced staff.
The ability of regional newsrooms to post articles directly on to the BBC website without going through central BBC News editorial structures has also caused issues. Several recent BBC articles that caused international headaches for the organisation, including a report of an attack on Jewish students in London and a contentious article about transgender people, were produced by regional newsrooms.
A centralised Birmingham-based hub for editing online stories from the BBC’s regional English outlets was abolished in the latest round of cuts, amid warnings that it would cause standards to drop.