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BBC England staff strike action to coincide with Spring Budget coverage

Strike action by BBC journalists will affect coverage of the upcoming Spring Budget with further dates being considered around the local elections, the King’s Coronation and the Eurovision Song Contest.

On Tuesday, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) announced its members working for BBC England had voted “overwhelmingly” in favour of industrial action in a dispute over planned changes to local radio programming.

A 24-hour strike where up to as many as 1,000 journalists are expected to walk out will begin at 11am on March 15 – the same day Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is due to deliver his Spring Budget.

They also agreed to a work-to-rule policy, where staff refuse to work overtime or outside the terms of their contract, which will start at the end of the first strike action.

Further industrial action is due to be announced, with strike dates being considered which coincide with the local elections on May 4, the coronation of Charles on May 6 and Eurovision coverage in the lead up to the final on May 13.

This action comes in response to the BBC’s proposal in October that local radio stations share more content and broadcast less programming unique to their areas.

This would see local programming restricted before 2pm and afternoon programmes across England shared between its 39 local radio stations.

The NUJ previously warned the plans would lead to a loss of posts and journalists having to re-apply for their own jobs.

Under the proposals, the broadcaster previously confirmed 48 jobs would be lost across local staffing in England.

Following a vote, the union said its members working for BBC England had backed industrial action over the proposals, with 83% voting in favour of strikes, and 92% voting in support of action short of a strike, with a 69% turnout rate.

The NUJ also said the dispute was not over pay but over how resources were “best used to serve audiences”.

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “This emphatic result demonstrates the strength of feeling amongst BBC members and their determination not to stand by and see local radio output dismantled.

“I would urge the BBC to take stock and meaningfully engage so that we can come to a solution that acknowledges the vital role that quality, relevant and genuinely local news plays in our public service broadcaster.

“The BBC’s focus on digital content and delivery shouldn’t be at the expense of local news and journalism.”

The NUJ’s national broadcasting organiser, Paul Siegert, added: “This result and the decision to take strike action shows overwhelmingly that the BBC’s proposals do not have the backing of its journalists.

“Local radio is supposed to be local. That is its USP and one of the main reasons why 5.7 million people listen to it every week.

“NUJ members are not opposed to the BBC investing in digital services, but it should not come at the expense of local radio and the communities it serves.

“We urge the BBC to get back around the table and start talking to us to try and find a way forward. No one wants to take strike action but the future of local radio is at stake and so our members are left with no option.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “We are disappointed at the outcome of the ballot. Our local plans are about delivering an even better service to communities across England, reflecting how audiences use the BBC, strengthening our online provision and increasing the impact of our journalism.

“We have consulted extensively with the NUJ over recent months and adapted our plans in response to feedback. We have assured teams working across our 39 BBC Local bases that we will maintain overall investment and staffing levels in local services and we’ll work hard to minimise the risk of compulsory redundancies.”

The plans come as part of cost-saving measures, as the BBC previously said that due to a freeze in the licence fee and inflation it faces a £400 million funding gap by 2026/2027 and must make savings.

Some 382 jobs at the service are being lost as part of plans to move to a digital-led offering, it was announced in September.

Tim Davie, who took over from Lord Tony Hall as director-general in September 2020, has overseen a slimming down of the corporation since starting in the role.