How the BBC is 'helping democracy thrive in our communities'

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries made the announcements about the BBC licence fee - Credit: Steve Parsons/PA Wire/PA Images

With the BBC licence fee set to be frozen and then abolished, local democracy reporter Josh Mellor writes on why his BBC-funded job is important for holding those in power to account.

With the licence fees we pay, the BBC helps to keep local democracy and independent journalism alive by funding reporters like me.

I’m a local democracy reporter – my job is to try and write interesting news about meetings that you probably won’t go to and reports you might not have time to read.

Local democracy reporter Josh Mellor

Local democracy reporter Josh Mellor - Credit: India Ash

I cover three boroughs – Waltham Forest, Redbridge and Havering councils – and I also sometimes go to public board meetings of local NHS trusts, inquests and police disciplinary hearings.

Local newspapers like Archant's Ilford and Romford Recorders all have access to my stories. That might include planning, housing policy or the council’s budgetary situation (which is usually not good).

Recent examples of stories I’ve written include that of a single mother and her three children being left homeless, weeks before Christmas, because they refused Waltham Forest’s offer of being moved to Derby.

I have written up a tense meeting where Redbridge councillors grilled senior NHS staff on why their local hospitals are struggling.

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Poring through a 33-page report on adult social care, I uncovered the allegation of a rape on a mental health ward at Goodmayes Hospital.

To me, this shows the BBC is committed to helping democracy thrive in our communities.

The scheme started because the local news industry is sadly struggling, and the BBC and local news publishers came up with a partnership that benefits everyone.

So, since 2018, the BBC has funded 165 local democracy reporters, based at local papers across the UK, to write news stories based on public meetings.

Councils, NHS trusts and police forces all have well-staffed teams of press officers who work to tell you what they want you to hear.

They do important work, but they won’t tell you the bad news that you have a right to know. That’s more likely to be my job.