A FORMER presenter of the BBC’s Swindon Breakfast Show has slammed the decision to axe the programme as part a drive to slash the corporation’s budget by 20 per cent over five years.
Peter Heaton-Jones, now a Conservative councillor for St Andrews, who presented the show from 2002 to 2006, has written an open letter to BBC Wiltshire managing director Tony Worgan claiming the service reduction will damage the distribution and discussion of local affairs in the town.
This comes after the Adver reported the show’s last presenter, Graham Mack, was axed without warning in September ahead of a move to replace the show on November 5 by a new county-wide programme presented by Ben Prater, who will transfer from BBC Radio Bristol. As part of the BBC’s Delivering Quality First proposals, it was announced in October 2011 that split breakfast programmes in BBC English Regions in Devon, Cambridge, Wiltshire and Three Counties would cease. At BBC Wiltshire, the Swindon Breakfast Show and the Wiltshire Breakfast Show, which covers the rest of Wiltshire, will be combined into one new programme, presented by Ben, who currently presents Drive on BBC Radio Bristol. In the letter, Coun Heaton-Jones, who worked for the BBC for more than 20 years, said: “Earlier this year I brought a motion to full council urging the BBC to retain the Swindon breakfast service, and it was unanimously supported by all councillors. I am disappointed BBC management nationally have ignored this resolution and have imposed a policy to discontinue the dedicated Swindon programme.
“Editorially, it is a difficult decision to justify. Swindon will soon be a borough of a quarter of a million people. It is a unitary authority, autonomous from the rest of Wiltshire geographically, economically and culturally.
“The dedicated breakfast programme was a public service. “The decision to cancel it will have a significant negative impact on the provision of news and information in the town, and deprives Swindonians of an important outlet for local debate.
“Of course the BBC, like all organisations in receipt of public money, has to make savings; I have no argument with that. My objection is that BBC management have imposed on Swindon a national policy which deprives us of an important local service.
“It is my belief, based on many years in the BBC, that equivalent savings could easily have been found elsewhere in the Corporation without such a negative impact on the audience.”
A BBC spokesperson said: “The new breakfast show which starts on November 5 will have all the news from Swindon that our listeners expect. Our breakfast show will continue to provide our audience with the mixture of quality journalism, up-to-date traffic, travel and weather and relevant discussion that they both expect and enjoy.”
“Of course, saving money is never easy, but these proposals formed part of a BBC wide savings plan which was the subject of a public consultation by the BBC Trust before a final decision was made.”