The BBC licence fee is facing real terms cuts.
A Tory minister was accused of being “slippery” as the government prepares to scrap a funding deal it had agreed with the BBC.
Lucy Frazer dropped a clear hint this morning that plans to let the corporation increase the licence fee by the rate of inflation in future will be scrapped.
The £159 charge is set to increase by £15 from April next year in an inflation-linked 9% rise. It was previously frozen by the government for two years.
Under an agreement between ministers and the BBC, the fee is meant to rise by inflation until 2027, when its current charter ends.
But appearing on Radio Four’s Today programme this morning, Frazer suggested that deal would be ditched.
“The position is that the cost of living is affecting families across the country and we have to make sure it’s affordable and government and companies are making adjustments, recognising that costs are rising across the board,” she said.
“We did freeze the licence fee to protect people, it is due to rise with inflation - we will enable it to rise with inflation - but we are looking very carefully at the rate of inflation.”
Presenter Justin Webb replied: “To which the BBC might respond ‘that is slippery’ because everyone expected that it would be calculated in the way that it generally is and you’re now saying it won’t be.”
The minister said: “I don’t accept that and what we need to look at is the BBC more broadly and how we make it fair to licence fee payers whilst at the same time protecting the amazing service that it provides across the board.”
Speaking to reporters on his way to the COP28 summit in Dubai last week, Rishi Sunak also hinted that the licence fee was facing a real-terms cut.
He said: “Going forward … the BBC should be realistic about what it can expect people to pay at a time like this.”
A BBC spokesperson said: “The government and BBC agreed a six-year licence fee settlement in January 2022, which froze the licence fee for two years with increases in line with inflation from 2024.
“As is usual practice the government sets and confirms the cost of a licence each year and this remains unconfirmed for 2024/25.
“The BBC will continue to focus on what it does best: working to deliver world-class content and providing great value for all audiences.”