Reduced BBC licence fee rise will have consequences, says NUJ
The union is disappointed that the government has reneged on a six-year funding agreement on the licence fee which is likely to put further pressure on budgets. The union is also concerned that an announced review of funding failed to make any reference to its role a public service broadcaster.
Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said the licence fee – which has been frozen for the past two years of historically high inflation – will not increase by average inflation, as expected. The increase will now be £10.50 in 2024, rather than an expected £15 for the year, taking the price of a TV licence to £169 a year from April 2024. The decision to raise it by a smaller percentage will leave an expected funding gap of around £90m.
Paul Siegert, NUJ broadcasting organiser, said:
“Cuts have consequences, as we have seen with cuts to BBC local radio this year and new announcements to cut back Newsnight, Panorama and 127 roles in news and current affairs. It’s right that the BBC plays its part in a cost-of-living crisis, and it has done so with a two-year freeze when the BBC’s costs were also severely impacted by high inflation. This thirteenth-hour change to funding – coming two years into the existing agreement – makes it very difficult for the BBC to plan and keep within budgets.
“Cuts in funding mean cuts in programmes and output. BBC is already pursuing £500 million in savings. In BBC Local we’ve seen local radio programmes cut, with shared shows doing away with truly local programming and many jobs lost. The BBC cut the World Service’s budget by £28.5m per year from April 2023, with 382 posts (almost one in five) going. Latest announcements in News and Current Affairs will see the loss of 127 posts. All this is felt by audiences.
“In terms of the BBC funding review announced today, the NUJ wants to see a regime which places public service broadcasting at the centre of a valued national broadcaster which is value for money and serves all. The NUJ will participate in the review and make sure the voices of journalists and content creators are heard loud and clear. If the government really believes the BBC is ‘a great British institution’ and ‘plays a vital role’ then commensurate funding must be secured.”
In January 2022, the government announced that the licence fee would be frozen at £159 until 2024 and then rise in line with inflation for the following four years. At the time, the government hailed the announcement as giving “broadcaster certainty while protecting public from price hike”.
The BBC Board said:
"We note that the government has restored a link to inflation on the licence fee after two years of no increases during a time of high inflation. The BBC is focused on providing great value, as well as programmes and services that audiences love. However, this outcome will still require further changes on top of the major savings that we are already delivering. Our content budgets are now impacted, which in turn will have a significant impact on the wider creative sector across the UK. We will confirm the consequences of this as we work through our budgets in the coming months."
Television executive Samir Shah is expected to be appointed by the government as the BBC board’s chair to replace Richard Sharp, the former Goldman Sachs banker who resigned earlier this year following his links to a £800,000 loan given to Boris Johnson, then Prime Minister.
The government is launching a review of the BBC's funding model. Lucy Frazer said: "The review will look at how we can ensure the funding model is fair to the public, sustainable for the long-term and supports the BBC's vital role in growing our creative industries." Earlier this week, she described the current model unsustainable, saying: "The media landscape is changing. We're not consuming the BBC like we used to consume it."