George Osborne
Cuts to defence, public sector jobs and changes to the retirement age may have made the headlines after the government announced its comprehensive spending review (CSR) yesterday. But other plans set out by Chancellor George Osborne (pictured) will not have gone unnoticed by journalists working in local media and communications professionals in local government.

There are three main aspects of the spending review worth considering for these industry groups: the BBC's new investment fund for local TV services; potential cuts to government communications jobs; and the roll-out of broadband in rural areas.

BBC and local TV
As part of the spending review, the government has asked the BBC to provide funding for proposals for local TV, first put forward by secretary for culture, media and sport Jeremy Hunt back in June.

The fund is part of the new licence fee settlement for the BBC, which will see the licence fee frozen at a rate of £145.50 for the next six years. In a letter to the BBC Trust, Hunt says the BBC will undertake to provide funding for new broadcasting activities, including taking "an active role" in supporting new local television services.

The letter mentions up to 20 new local television services - Hunt had originally suggested between 10 and 20 stations - with the BBC paying up to a total of £25 million in 2013/14 and ongoing funding of up to £5 million per annum from 2014/15 to support the use of content from these new stations on its own services. If money is required before this date, funds from the digital switchover surplus could be used, says Hunt in his letter.

The BBC will also contribute part of its licence fee revenue to funding Welsh-language service S4C, which was previously funded by the government. In 2013/14 and 2014/15 the BBC will contribute around £76 million to the service with future funding arrangements not yet set.

"Having decided to reduce its own funding for S4C as part of the CSR, HMG [Her Majesty's Government] holds that a new partnership model with the BBC is the best way of securing the long-term future of the service. Under the partnership, funding for S4C in future will come from three sources: the licence fee, a continued but reduced subvention from the Government, and commercial income," says the letter.

Previous proposals from the BBC to expand its local video content were met with stiff criticism from local media groups in the UK back in 2008 and plans to spend £68 million over five years on 60 local websites providing on-demand video content were not passed by the BBC Trust. But according to Hunt's letter, S4C will not be BBC branded. Speaking yesterday, George Osborne said the BBC had agreed not to encroach on existing local media suppliers in support of the local newspaper industry.

Writing on the Talk About Local blog, Will Perrin, who was on the selection panel for the Independently Funded News Consortia abandoned by the new government, says the money from the BBC could be a game changer for Hunt's local TV plans. But the culture secretary must look at new methods of regulation and move away from "traditional media hothouse locations" to provide services that are truly local and show an understanding of the web.

Local council communications and local media
According to the Local Government Association, the CSR could result in the loss of 100,000 council jobs in England alone - one in 10 of the workforce. The review will result in an average loss of grant from central government to local councils of 7.25 per cent, in real terms, in each of the next four years.

"Local government will be squealing at the loss of 26 per cent of its grant from central government, knowing that many of its core services will suffer. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has often expressed his displeasure at the sector's spending on communications," David Allaby, managing editor of Public Servant and, tells

"Press offices, costly websites and print products will face severe cuts - a tenth of council staff may be lost quite quickly - but local government will have to tap into social networking and cost-effective media as powers are devolve to neighbourhoods and success is measured by customer attitudes. The lines of communication have to stay open."

There are concerns among experts that communications and media office jobs at local authorities could be in the firing line. Local councils will need to look at ways to centralise some functions, David Holdstock, head of corporate communications at LGCommunications, which works to raise the standard of communications in local government, explains.

"There is clearly a job to do for council communicators to explain to residents what it will mean for them and the changes. We will also need to continue to develop ideas and solutions to ensure we are delivering cost-effective communications which offer council taxpayers value for money," he says.
"In terms of staff, we will have to look at ways to consolidate resources where we can. Things such as for those councils without a centralised communications function - centralise - and also look at shared solutions with our partners in health and other public services."

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles has been pushing for a restriction of councils' communications and marketing operations, by producing new proposals to reduce the frequency and format of so-called council newspapers.

Emma Maier, editor of Local Government Chronicle, tells that the spending review cuts may not mean the end of council newspapers however. For may authorities they are an effective way of spreading essential messages to residents, she says. Instead there may be a reduced staff producing a council's newspapers, she adds.

But Maier is concerned that relations with local press will deteriorate further as a results of the spending review measures: councils have to cut services, but these cutbacks will inevitably be reported and criticised by local media, making local authorities defensive.

Broadband plans
On a more positive note, the CSR also saw the announcement of which four parts of the UK have been selected to pilot high speed broadband. Parts of Cumbria, the Highlands and Islands, North Yorkshire and the Golden Valley in Herefordshire will become some of the first rural areas to implement the superfast broadband network, which the government wants to introduce across the UK by 2015.

The pilots will be part of a £530 million investment by the government to improve the UK's broadband network.

"Work will begin on upgrading the broadband infrastructure in the four areas following further definition of the pilots and a procurement process. It is hoped that suppliers will start rolling out upgraded infrastructure within a year. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will then use these networks to offer affordable services to homes and businesses," says the DCMS on its website.

Improved broadband speeds and access to broadband for those living in rural and remote communities will be a boost to local businesses and online media providers. It will also provide opportunities for websites and advertisers to forge stronger relationships online in these local areas.

For the culture secretary, the upgraded broadband network is also an important part of his local TV plans, but whether rural areas are the best testing grounds for these was not supported by the recent Schott report, which said local TV would work better, although still meet obstacles, in conurbations.

It will however be up to the local media in those pilot areas to take the opportunities that better broadband access could offer their digital products. They must hope that despite being a testing ground for a nationwide network, the decentralisation of government and passing of power to regional areas promised by the coalition, will help them to offer something truly local.

Image by altogetherfool on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

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