Tories line up BBC for real-terms cuts, reports suggest

Is this the latest Tory plan to 'whack' the Beeb?

The BBC licence fee will rise by less than the rate of inflation over the next five years – leading to real-terms cuts to services, a report in The Times suggests today.

The government is due to conclude negotiations with the BBC over the licence fee, which is £159 a year, in coming weeks. The talks will determine its cost over the next five years, the paper reports, with the corporation pushing for an increase that keeps up with inflation. Inflation could rise to nearly 4% next year – meaning a freeze on the license fee would lead to millions in further cuts at the Beeb.

BBC News has already had to cut £85m from his budget and earlier this month staff agreed to accept a below inflation across the board pay rise.

In real terms, funding of the BBC has already been cut by around 25% since 2010, according to the National Union of Journalists. It was thought that Director Tim Davie needed the licence fee to increase at least in line with inflation for him to carry out his proposed restructuring plans, which include moving 200 news jobs out of London.

Ministers have reportedly rejected calls by the corporation for it to increase the licence fee in line with inflation.

Paul Siegert, NUJ national broadcasting organiser, said that real-terms cuts would be a ‘hammer blow for the BBC’: “The corporation has proved itself to be an essential component of British society especially during the global health pandemic and audiences have been glued to their services when the country has been put under lockdown.

“Cutting funding to the BBC, via a below inflation rise in the licence fee, will mean the BBC will be able to offer less to the public – less local and national news, less journalism, less on the radio, website and TV, and less diversity and less quality programming and output.”

He added that there is ‘money available’ to sufficiently finance the BBC: “It is the political will and support that has been shortcoming. This is the first real test Tim Davie has faced since becoming Director General and if this is the outcome then he has been found sadly wanting.”

Tory sources have previously boasted of plans to ‘whack’ the BBC. The Times reports that ministers had stepped back from ‘serious’ reform of the publicly-owned broadcaster, ‘swayed in part by the BBC’s continuing high approval ratings.’

With plans already underway to privatise Channel 4, how much longer will ministers hold off on major efforts to undermine the BBC?

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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