Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell said the Government is signalling “the end of the BBC as we know it” in a “pathetic” attempt to distract from Boris Johnson’s difficulties over Downing Street parties.
She said the £159 licence fee is “incredibly cheap” and criticised Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries for making an announcement on Twitter as part of a Tory Government plan to offer “red meat for their backbenchers”.
Ms Powell’s comments come after Ms Dorries said at the weekend that the next announcement about the BBC licence fee “will be the last”, and indicated she wanted to find a new funding model for the BBC after the current licence fee funding deal expires in 2027.
The BBC licence fee will be axed, suggests Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries.
Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell: "The Culture Secretary is performing cultural vandalism. It's part of a strategy to cause a distraction to blame everybody but themselves"@JuliaHB1 | @LucyMPowell pic.twitter.com/azbyVD9n0n
— talkRADIO (@talkRADIO) January 17, 2022
She tweeted: “This licence fee announcement will be the last. The days of the elderly being threatened with prison sentences and bailiffs knocking on doors are over. Time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content.”
Various reports say Ms Dorries is expected to announce later this week that the licence fee will be kept at the current rate of £159 until April 2024. The Telegraph also reports that a “new funding model” is expected to be found by 2027 when the Royal Charter is due to be renewed.
Ms Powell told Times Radio: “We’ve just got to recognise what it is that we are getting for that payment – which is actually incredibly cheap, even when you compare it to many of the commercial competitors out there – what you get as value, because we all pay in a small amount, what the BBC is able to do.”
This licence fee announcement will be the last. The days of the elderly being threatened with prison sentences and bailiffs knocking on doors, are over.
Time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content. https://t.co/sXtK25q27H
— Nadine Dorries (@NadineDorries) January 16, 2022
“Let’s not get away from the fact that this so-called announcement, which was on Twitter yesterday, which is effectively the end of the BBC as we know it, a huge policy announcement, is nothing more than a really obvious, pathetic distraction from a Prime Minister and a Government who has run out of road and whose leadership is hanging by a thread.”
She acknowledged that the licence fee is not a perfect solution – “you would not necessarily start with it if we didn’t have it now” – but said countries around the world are looking at the “mix of models that we have in this country” for funding broadcasting.
The annual BBC licence payment normally changes on April 1 each year and is set by the Government, who announced in 2016 that it would rise in line with inflation for five years from April 1 2017. It is reported to be worth around £3.2 billion to the BBC.
The corporation has previously come under fire over the abolition of free TV licences for all over-75s, with a grace period on payment because of the Covid-19 pandemic having ended on July 31.
Funny that you yourself said in Parliament a few days ago “The BBC confirmed recently that no enforcement action has been taken against anyone over 75 years of age”
You’ll need to come up with some better reasons … when is the statement to parliament (not the Mail) btw? https://t.co/BLkmGcigkM
— Lucy Powell MP (@LucyMPowell) January 16, 2022
Only those who receive pension credit do not have to pay the annual sum.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said the BBC is “something we need to make sure we continue to support and protect”.
The Cabinet minister said it is “absolutely right to celebrate what the BBC does globally, the soft power behind the BBC is something that we need to make sure we continue to support and protect”.
Mr Zahawi told the Today programme that negotiations between Ms Dorries and the broadcaster are “ongoing”.
The BBC has many strengths and many weaknesses, but I suspect this government wants to get rid of it because it holds them to account.
— Matt Lucas (@RealMattLucas) January 16, 2022
He said: “The Secretary of State will make a statement on that. I can tell you, because (BBC director-general) Tim Davie came to see me when I got the job of Secretary of State for Education, the work we do… that the BBC does on education is incredibly valuable.
“But we also have to recognise that, actually, the way people consume media today is very different to the way they did five years ago, and part of that is a proper grown-up conversation as to how the BBC is funded beyond this settlement.”
A BBC source told the PA news agency: “There has been similar speculation before. There are very good reasons for investing in what the BBC can do for the British public, and the creative industries and the UK around the world. Anything less than inflation would put unacceptable pressure on the BBC finances after years of cuts.”
I am well aware that the BBC makes mistakes and needs to change but the media landscape would be much poorer without it.
Those 3 letters are trusted and respected around the world.
— Dan Walker (@mrdanwalker) January 16, 2022
Following the reports, celebrities including Matt Lucas and BBC presenter Dan Walker took to social media to defend the corporation.
Lucas tweeted: “The BBC has many strengths and many weaknesses, but I suspect this government wants to get rid of it because it holds them to account”, while Walker said: “I am well aware that the BBC makes mistakes and needs to change but the media landscape would be much poorer without it. Those 3 letters are trusted and respected around the world.”
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has also been contacted for comment.