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BECTU believes government plans will adversely affect both the scope and scale of the BBC.

BECTU has expressed major reservations about two key aspects of the government’s BBC White Paper which has been unveiled today. (What follows is BECTU’s media release).

John Whittingdale MP, culture secretary, claims that the government plans no changes to the scope or scale of the BBC. The truth is exactly the reverse, says media and entertainment union, BECTU.

The reality is that damage is being done to the BBC’s scope and scale with every passing day. Today, here and now, there are departments across the BBC whose projects are at a standstill because of uncertainty over future funding, says BECTU, the biggest union in the BBC.

“We reject the suggestion that today’s White Paper gives the BBC certainty. The BBC is set to lose 20% of its income – £750m – by 2020 and the creation of BBC Studios will have a fundamentally destabilising effect on the corporation. To say that certainty is being offered against this backdrop is false. The government is being dishonest with the licence fee payer when it says that our principal public service broadcaster will not be harmed by its policy,” commented BECTU’s general secretary, Gerry Morrissey.

Cost of free licences for over-75s will mean service closures

How can it be possible to expect the BBC’s operations to remain intact when it is set to lose 20% of its income due to the government’s decision to make the BBC bear the cost of free licence fees for the over-75s? To date the cost of free licence fees has been met from the welfare budget. In the 2010 licence fee settlement, the government froze the licence fee for a five-year period and forced the BBC to take on responsibility for the funding of S4C, the Welsh language channel, and the World Service. The result has been less innovation, substantial production cutbacks, and the loss of services not only at the BBC but at S4C and the World Service. Thousands of BBC jobs have been shed since 2010.

This recent experience demonstrates the bad practice of setting the licence fee settlement, as was done last July, and then deciding on what the BBC is required to do. Surely the most effective way to plan, honestly, for the BBC’s future is to set the BBC’s responsibilities by way of the Charter Review and then decide on the funding needed to deliver on those responsibilities. As things stand today, the BBC faces major funding cuts with no transparency about future audience services.

BBC production is being privatised

The government’s backing for the creation of BBC Studios as a wholly owned subsidiary by 2017 is another high risk strategy which sets alarm bells ringing for anyone who cares about the future of the BBC. There is currently a mixed production economy at the BBC in which a minimum of 25%, up to a maximum of 50%, of BBC output for television is produced by the independent production sector. The plan to put 100% of output for BBC TV up for competition by 2028 will have a destabilising effect on BBC production. Production talent at the BBC can compete with the best. However will there be a level playing field when the loudest calls are for more commercialisation at the BBC? The proposal also risks squandering the BBC’s assets as returns on the commercial exploitation of BBC programmes would no longer be the property of the BBC, returned to the Corporation for the benefit of the licence fee payer.

“We have no confidence that the creation of BBC Studios will be in the interests of the BBC or of BBC staff. The BBC’s record on the creation of wholly owned subsidiaries is a tale of misery with privatisation, job losses and squandered opportunities being the result. This move threatens to turn the BBC into a diminished publisher/broadcaster rather than the distinctive, popular, licence-fee funded producer/broadcaster loved and respected at home and abroad,” continued Gerry Morrissey.

The licence fee payer is being let down by BBC management and by the government, neither of which is fully committed to our great public service broadcaster. The public is massively supportive of the BBC and yet their views are being ignored. The government says it wants the BBC to produce more programming for children and yet the plan is to put 100% of both Children’s and Sports output out to competitive tender by 2019. The government’s thinking is muddled and wasteful and the audience is being overlooked as politicians meddle with the BBC’s future.

“It’s also clear to us that the BBC hasn’t trusted licence fee payers, or the general public, who are greatly supportive of the BBC. In its tussle with government, the BBC has conceded ground it should never have conceded to the independent sector and for its trouble it still faces a massive further 20% cut in its income,” concluded Gerry Morrissey.

The BBC Love It or Lose It campaign, launched by BECTU and subsequently embraced by all unions in the Federation of Entertainment Unions, reflects some of the strength of feeling in support of a well-resourced and independent BBC. Over 25,000 people have signed the petition and public events have met with enthusiastic support. The campaign will continue as the White Paper is debated in parliament.

BBC Love It Or Lose it campaign petition – https://campaign.goingtowork.org.uk/petitions/love-it-or-lose-it-save-the-bbc

BBC Love It Or Lose It on facebook – www.facebook.com/loveitorloseit

Source: https://www.bectu.org.uk/news/2584