Emergency radio broadcasts could be jeopardised by BBC plans to turn off medium wave radio transmitters and lay off local reporters, council leaders warned today.

In times of crisis such as flooding, severe weather or other major emergencies, town halls and their partner police and fire authorities often rely on local radio to keep residents informed and issue safety advice.

As part of cost-cutting measures the BBC is proposing to cut medium wave coverage across swathes of the country, replace hours of local radio content with national programmes and lay off many regional staff. It says local radio will be able to leave national schedules to broadcast during “times of civil emergency or bad weather” and medium wave will only be turned off in areas with an alternative FM service.

However, what appears as FM coverage on paper is in reality only crackling static in many areas where the signal is disrupted by hills or valleys. Councils warn the medium wave switch off will lead to thousands of their residents in rural communities losing local radio entirely.

The Local Government Association fears these swingeing cuts could seriously compromise local radio’s effectiveness during emergencies and potentially put lives at risk, especially in areas which are losing medium wave coverage. It has submitted its concerns as part of the BBC’s consultation, which closes this week, and called for clarification about how new systems would work in an emergency.

Cllr Chris White, Chair of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said:

“Local radio plays a key role in how councils manage an emergency and the BBC regularly sits on resilience planning panels along with police and fire authorities. It’s particularly important in rural areas which don’t receive FM, for elderly residents who rely on it for information or tourist hotspots where the population can increase rapidly and the best way to communicate with them is local radio.

“Time and time again these arrangements have proven invaluable to local communities, from updates about school closures, heavy snowfall, road accidents and flooding, to bulletins about more unforeseen emergencies such as train crashes or dangerous criminals on the loose. People rely on councils for the latest information in many circumstances, and in turn we rely on local radio.

“Councils are aware of the need to make savings but we fear the BBC underestimates the serious implications and risks to people’s safety that a simple flick of a switch could have to communities across the country.

“The BBC has a public service duty which it mustn’t forget. Currently its proposed contingencies barely sound adequate on paper and in the reality of an emergency could well be found wanting. Residents may end up with confused broadcasts from inexperienced journalists reporting on places they know nothing about, while others with no medium wave service could be left entirely in the dark. Both are unacceptable.”

Problem pubs face faster action thanks to LGA lobbying success

LGA Media release – January 29th 2010

Councils across the country will be able to take faster and more effective action against problem pubs and off-licences thanks to new powers which came into effect today, making it easier for elected politicians to act on the concerns of local people.

The Local Government Association Group lobbied ministers for changes to the Policing and Crime Act which mean councillors in a licensing authority can now initiate their own action against premises which are thought to be connected to alcohol-related crime or disorder, or which undermine the other licensing objectives.

Previously, elected councillors could only intervene if a resident was willing to publicly put their name to a complaint in writing, meaning councillors had no powers to step in simply because they had observed a problem. In some situations where a licensed venue was suspected of being the scene of drug-dealing or other criminal behaviour, constituents have sometimes been too scared to be named and owners have been able to quash attempts to review their licence.

From today, ward councillors will be able to make representations and call for reviews of problem premises’ licences right across their authority. These new powers give councillors the ability to take meaningful action on their residents’ behalf and act as local champions on licensing issues.

Cllr Chris White, Chair of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said:

“Bars and pubs are a vibrant part of many towns and cities, and in rural areas often provide an important hub of social activity. People enjoy going to these venues, they are valuable local businesses and councils are keen to support them.

“When there are problems with a small minority of licensed premises, it is important councils can act swiftly and effectively to put things right. The previous rules meant councillors were too often prevented from speaking up on behalf of their constituents.

“Giving councillors the right to represent local people in this way is an obvious and simple step that the LGA Group argued for, and it is great to see the new rules come into force. People can be confident their local councils will use these powers responsibly to keep our streets safe and trouble free.”

Author: LGA Media Office
Contact: LGA Media Office, Tel: 020 7664 3333


Notes to editors:

There are four licensing objectives, which are the prevention of crime and disorder, public safety, the prevention of public nuisance, and the protection of children from harm.

LACORS, the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services, has published guidance for councillors on the new rules which can be found at

The rules apply to councillors on licensing authorities, which in two tier areas means district councils rather than county councils.

Chris speaks out on licensing

Noise fears over music law change for pubs and bars

Last updated at 12:27 AM on 12th December 2009

Allowing pubs and bars to put on live music without the need for a licence would mean a massive in complaints about noise, council leaders warned yesterday.

Nine out of 10 council licensing officers said they believed that relaxing the rules for venues would lead to an increase in complaints about noise and nuisance according to a poll by the Local Government Association Group (LGA).

More than half said they expected the increase to be considerable.

The Government is proposing an exemption to the 2003 Licensing Act which would allow bars, clubs and cafes to put on live music for fewer than 100 people without the need for a licence.

Councillors are worried this could lead to cafes and bars staging noisy events without local residents being able to have a say.

Cllr Chris White, chair of the LGA’s culture, tourism and sport board, said: ‘Being able to go out and enjoy music and other entertainment is all part of having a good quality of life, but so is being able to get a good night’s sleep.

‘Families should be able to put their children to bed in peace, and be able to relax in their homes without being disturbed by noise from licensed premises.

‘The size of an audience is not a good way of judging the likely impact of an event. There could be considerable noise and disturbance from a heavy metal gig attended by only 20 people at a local pub, while an audience of 250 listening to a jazz band in a remote village hall could create minimal difficulty.

‘Bars and pubs are often good neighbours and the majority will want to know people living nearby are not disturbed by their business. Locals are valuable customers, after all.

‘Common sense measures to allow pubs and bars to put on live music with a minimum of bureaucracy are already in place and make further amendments pointless.’

The LGA Group argues that further changes to the Act are unnecessary.

Councils are making businesses more aware of new rules which mean they can add live music to existing licences very simply.
The ‘minor variations’ process allows bars and clubs to add entertainment to their licence by filling in an application form and putting a notice up outside for 10 working days. The licensing authority responds within 15 days.

The process allows venues to introduce live music but gives consideration to what impact there might be for people living nearby, a spokesman said.

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: ‘We will consult shortly on this proposal and all parties will have the opportunity to make their views known.’

Council magazine spending to be investigated

The Audit Commission said today it looks forward to discussing the scope of the review of council funding for local newspapers announced by the Culture Secretary, Ben Bradshaw.

The government yesterday unveiled its white paper ‘Digital Britain’ which raised concerns about the growth of councils’ own newspapers. The white paper said it might be ‘against the public interest’ if they attracted advertising revenue away from local papers in commercial ownership.

Mr Bradshaw said: ‘We are asking the Audit Commission to examine the practice of local authorities spending quite a lot of council tax payers’ money putting out free newspapers and, in the process, swallowing up a lot of local advertising that might otherwise go to local papers.’

A review by the Office of Fair Trading had already noted ‘the adverse impact on local newspapers of the increasing role of local authorities in taking paid advertising to support local authority information sheets.’ It was worried that, coupled with other pressures, this may make local commercial media unviable.

Audit Commission Chief Executive Steve Bundred said he would be discussing the breadth, timing and financing of the proposed piece of work with the Department of Culture Media and Sport. ‘The Audit Commission exists to assess value for money for the public purse, and enjoys the trust of ministers, councils and consumers in providing fair, objective assessments. Local news and council information are both valuable resources, and if we are invited to take on this study we will find out how they can co-exist in the fast-changing world of new media.’

The Digital Britain report says: ‘While local authority information sheets can serve a useful purpose for local residents and businesses, they will inevitably not be as rigorous in holding local institutions to account as independent local media … the Government is therefore inviting the Audit Commission to undertake a specific inquiry into the prevalence of this practice, its impact and to make recommendations on best practice and if restraints should be placed on local authority activity in this field.’

Chris to appear before House of Commons All-Party Retail Group

Chris White is appearing this afternoon before the All-Party Retail Group to give evidence against the Government imposing mandatory licensing conditions on local authorities. He does so as Chair of the Culture, Tourism and Sport Board of the Local Government Association.

Chris says: ‘We all want misuse of alcohol to be curtailed – and that includes irresponsible retailing. Councils need the powers to tackle alcohol-related harm. Imposing central conditions on local circumstances will not help and could well hinder existing efforts.’

The decision by Parliament to allow the Government to regulate fees has cost council taxpayers an estimated £100 million in lost revenues because fees are not covering licensing and enforcement costs – a clear example of why Whitehall does not know best.

Beware of misleading poll reporting!

I too woke up this morning to hear that Labour were down five points in a Telegraph opinion poll and that the Tory lead over them had widened. The implication was, of course: Labour lose to Tories.

After more internet searching than should have been necessary I discovered the truth: Labour are down five, presumably because of MP expenses and the smear scandal. But the Tories are also down 1. The Liberal Democrats, as studiously not reported on the BBC, are up 3%. I think we deserve better from our public service broadcasters.

Meanwhile, I hear that there will be more on MPs expenses on tonight’s Dispatches programme on Channel 4.

Government to respond to lobbying over empty shops

I can only welcome the fact that the Government has responded to my lobbying over the problems of empty shops in our high street.

This I did on behalf of the Local Government Association in February. The basic idea is that empty shops (especially those boarded up) can drag the rest of a high street down. If councils had powers to take these shops over on a temporary basis – perhaps for use as galleries or centres for the unemployed – then the retail sector is more likely to come out of the recession relatively unscathed.

The Government will be announcing today a £3 million fund to tackle the “recession in the high street”. The money will be given to local councils to come up with “creative” ways to reuse shops left empty as a result of business closure or bankruptcy.

Chris calls for better Post Office solutions

Chris White spoke at the weekend at his Party conference and called for the Post Office to be turned into a mutual organisation, with a substantial share ownership by staff.

He also called for tighter regulation of the the Post Office’s competitors.

On the recent post office closures consultation he said: ‘This was simply dishonest. The consultation in St Albans was geographically illiterate. It was also apparent that any successful campaign to save a Post office was likely to be met by the closure of a different Post Office.’

He felt that the Essex County Council scheme under which local authorities took over post offices would mean little more than the problem being shifted from one area to another.

Chris calls for councils to have the power to take over empty shops

Chris has called upon the Government to change the law to give councils the temporary power to take over empty shops where the landlord has not taken reasonable steps to find a tenant.

Chris said on Radio 4’s Today programme and BBC breakfast yesterday: ‘We are in danger of moving from clone town to ghost town. As more shops get boarded up high streets become less attractive and fewer people want to visit. This can then lead to a spiral of decline – sometimes known as broken window syndrome.

‘If councils had the power to take over these shops they could use them for purposes which will help us all through the recession – clubs for jobless people, temporary youth clubs, or even just cheap accommodation for businesses which are struggling. But the real boon would be that the high street wouldn’t spiral into decline.

Under the proposals landlords would have three months in which to find a tenant before a council could use the powers proposed. Even if a council did use compulsion, the landord would still receive rent.’