Here’s what director general of the BBC had to say to Local Democracy Reporters at their annual conference

Local Democracy Reporters from across the country gathering in MediaCity, Salford, on Friday, for their annual conference — held in person for the first time in two years. Director General Tim Davie kicked the event off with this speech on the Local Democracy Reporter Scheme:

I want to start by saying something I hope you already know.

The BBC is incredibly proud of what you do.

We’re incredibly proud of this scheme and of what the BBC, the NMA [News Media Association], and all our partners have done to create such an excellent model for securing important, public service journalism across the UK.

It’s easy to forget how far we have come in a short time.

It’s less than four years since the very first Local Democracy Reporter filed her first story for the Kent Messenger Group.

Since then, you have created nearly a quarter of a million stories.

There are now 165 Local Democracy Reporter posts across the UK.

And we reckon that between 8 and 10 million people now read, watch, or hear your stories each week.

It’s even become a template for other countries to follow.

New Zealand now has 20 Local Democracy Reporters… Canada’s Local Journalism Initiative employs around 150.

Just this week, MPs were paying tribute to the scheme once again in Westminster. It’s a major success story. And we all know why it’s so important.

I always think back to 2017 and the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire and the report from Dame Cairncross that came two years later, looking at how to secure the future of high-quality journalism around the country.

That report specifically highlighted that the decline of local news coverage was a factor in the council’s failure to act on Grenfell residents’ safety concerns.

And it made clear that the shortage of local reporters all around the country had led to chronic underreporting of local councils, courtrooms, and other institutions.

In other words: communities right across the UK were suffering from a serious lack of scrutiny on the issues and concerns that mattered to them most.

What you have achieved in the past few years has started to redress that balance, and reverse some of the damage that has been done to local democracy.

So when we talk about the 250,000 stories that you have written in that time, we’re talking about important stories. Stories that really matter in people’s day-to-day lives. Stories that might not otherwise have been told.

We’ve seen some great examples in recent weeks:

  • Of holding power to account Like the lead councillor for children’s services in Wrexham who was found to be working remotely from Panama at a time when the whole department was under scrutiny from the Care Inspectorate Wales;
  • Or covering critical local issues Like the “intolerable” delays in ambulance transfers in Cornwall and Devon — in one week alone, 70 shifts were lost each day as ambulances waited outside hospitals to transfer patients;
  • Or important crime stories in the public interest — Like the disappearance of £1.1 million from Luton Borough Council’s bank account — money that was supposed to pay for a new buildings at a school in Bedford.

Then there are the good news stories that are much needed right now, like the fact that Hemel Hempstead council has received around £100,000 in the past six months from being used for the filming of major TV series from Netflix, ITV, Apple and — yes — the BBC.

And possibly my favourite from the last week or so.

The housing developer in Sefton who has been granted permission to build 200 new homes, but only as long as it pays nearly £450,000 towards primary education and commits to feeding the local pink-footed geese in perpetuity.

Now, I have always believed that the BBC should find ways to support a healthy local media ecology.

I know that it’s so often what communities rely on most.

But it’s important to remind ourselves of the reason why the BBC is in a position to offer the support we do.

It’s because of the way we are funded, by everyone, through the Licence Fee.

It means we have to offer everyone real value in return.

The BBC staff here will be sick of hearing it, but it’s absolutely been my mantra since starting as DG: the BBC must be totally focused on offering great value to everyone — whoever and wherever they are.

And a big part of that is helping to uphold local democracy, and protect the interests of local communities right across the UK.

It’s also because of the Licence Fee that we have been able to commit to the Local Democracy Reporting Service in the long term — even in a period when we have faced our own serious financial pressures.

Because we have the certainty of that funding model in place until the end of our current Royal Charter, we can pass that certainty on — with a commitment to back this scheme through to 2027.

So I want to thank you once again for being here today, and for being the most important part of a crucially important partnership.

And I also want to take the chance to thank BBC staff who support and work on the project with such passion and dedication.

I hope you have an excellent day here at MediaCity. Enjoy the awards, and I look forward to reading more of your great work in 2022.

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