CONTRACTS to employ local democracy reporters as part of the BBC’s Local News Partnerships have been awarded to Newsquest, publishers of The Northern Echo.

Nationally, 144 full-time and two part-time staff will be taken on by 58 local news organisations to create a pool of local democracy reporters to cover councils and public meetings across the UK.

Those news organisations will now receive funding from the BBC to cover employment costs of the reporters. Once recruited, the stories they write will be shared with more than 700 media organisations that have signed up to be part of the Local News Partnerships scheme. Newsquest has been awarded 17 contracts nationally for 37 reporters.

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David Holdsworth, controller of BBC English Regions, said: “This is a major advance in the partnership which will significantly improve the reporting on councils and public institutions, leading to greater public accountability for our local politicians.”

As part of its Charter commitment, the BBC is investing up to £8m annually in the Local News Partnerships over the next nine years.

Ashley Highfield, chair of the News Media Association, said: “The initiative has moved the relationship between the BBC and the local media sector from confrontation to collaboration, and key benefits will include 150 new journalists on the ground holding public institutions to account.

“Managed by local media and funded by BBC, the local democracy reporters are just a part of a slew of collaborative initiatives that will see local media get access to BBC's local video and data journalism."

To be awarded the democracy reporter contracts, the 58 successful news organisations had to pass stringent criteria which included financial stability and a strong track record of relevant journalism in the area they were applying to cover.

The award decisions were made by senior editorial BBC figures across the English regions, Wales and Scotland.