ITV news pilots 'to start in April 2010'

Tuesday, November 17 2009, 11:42 GMT

By Andrew Laughlin,

Pilot schemes for independently financed ITV regional news replacement services could start in April next year, but exact funding arrangement are yet to be confirmed.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport yesterday published its latest report on the state of local news provision in the UK, including the long-mooted idea of independently funded news consortia (IFNC) to take on ITV regional news licences.

DCMS prefers to provide the estimated 50-100m funding for IFNCs by utilising the 130m underspend in the licence fee from the Digital Switchover Help Scheme.

However, the department said that it will hold back its final decision on the approach, which is vigorously opposed by the BBC Trust, until the end of the pilot schemes. Should more viable funding options arise during the trials, it will "consider them".

First suggested in the Digital Britain report in June, trial schemes for IFNCs will run until 2013 to judge the viability of the approach in providing a workable and sustainable local news alternative to the BBC's output.

In the report, DCMS said: "The pressures affecting television news has meant some ITV regions have already merged news operations, closed studios and laid off editorial and production staff. The quality and localness of regional news on ITV has suffered.

"The print and the radio industries are facing similar pressures. Unless we take action, there is a high risk that high quality, professional regional news in England and news in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will not be provided other than by the BBC."

Various media groups have already indicated their interest in taking part in the IFNC pilots, including ITN, PA, Guardian Media Group and Scottish Channel 3 licence holder STV.

An independent panel will now asses all tendered applications, with successful candidates to be informed after Christmas. Culture secretary Ben Bradshaw will make his final decision on tenders in March.