Preparing for 2015 election coverage outside BBC Broadcasting House. Photo: Amanda Lewis
BBC funding settlement is a disaster but far from a done deal
Did the 29 celebrities who wrote to complain about the BBC’s funding settlement this week initiate their letter to the PM or did they not? Who cares?! We very much doubt that Daniel Craig or Stephen Fry were forced by the evil BBC to sign or die! But the spat this threw up in the media did, ironically, seem like an infantile squabble orchestrated by the government to deflect from the serious shock of last week’s licence fee announcement and Thursday’s Green Paper.
It is BECTU’s view that the new BBC funding settlement is an extremely bad outcome for the BBC, for its staff and for the viewers and listeners.
At the last Licence Fee negotiations the then Director-General, Mark Thompson, caved in and agreed to the Licence Fee being frozen for five years and for the BBC to take over the costs of funding the World Service and S4C. He justified this painful compromise by saying the alternative would be the BBC having to fund the cost of free TV licences for the over-75s.
Five frozen years later though, the BBC now finds itself after the latest negotiations agreeing to pay for those self-same TV licences for the over-75s from 2018 onwards, with the full cost being picked up from 2020. This will cost the BBC £650m, rising to £750m by 2020.
In return the BBC will receive, as a short-term sweetener, £150m from the ring-fenced digital roll-out money plus a further potential £100m (which is a very generous assumption) for closing the iPlayer loophole, and then a further £100m would be expected to be generated from licence fee increases if you assume CPI is in excess of 2.5%.
This leaves BBC funding far from safe. From 2020/2021 the BBC will have a shortfall of at least £300m.
Putting this in context, the cost of content for BBC Two is £400m and, with distribution and infrastructure, rises to £521m. On the same basis BBC Three costs £109m, BBC Four costs £65m, Radio 1 costs £52m, Radio 2 costs £60m, Radio 3 costs £56m, Radio 4 costs £120m, 5 Live costs £66m, 6 Music costs £12m and local radio costs £150m. How could any of us decide what to cut without crippling the BBC beyond recognition?
Bearing in mind that broadcast inflation runs at least 2% above normal inflation, the likelihood is that the BBC will need to save in excess of £350 million per year.
Senior BBC managers and the Government would like everyone to believe that this is a done deal and nothing can be reversed. This is not true.
The most damaging part of this settlement is the free TV licences for the over-75s. It is this decision that, if unchallenged, will leave the BBC unrecognisable in less than 10 years’ time.
BECTU intends to campaign both politically and across the wider media for this decision to be re-examined and, bearing in mind that the full cost of this decision will not be borne until there has been another General Election, it is vital that we educate politicians, viewers and listeners about what is likely to be lost if this decision is not reversed.
The BBC faces even more attacks with suggestions that the government is not only prepared to use the BBC to pay for its welfare policies but that they also want to restrict the type of output made by the BBC – scrapping some popular entertainment programmes and scrutinising the role and scope of the BBC website. The charter review is clearly another focus for all of us to lobby to keep the BBC independent of government.
BBC management have done a ‘Thompson’ and caved in to the government in agreeing this terrible deal. We should not. If David Attenborough, Mark Rylance and Clare Balding are taking a stand then so should we – viewers, listeners and staff. If we all campaign as a nation, we can challenge any service cuts that the BBC propose and lobby to reverse the cost of the free licence fee for the over-75s.
Please sign our petition against the funding cuts and ask everyone you know to sign as well. We love our BBC and we won’t let it die!