A below-inflation increase to the BBC licence fee next year could result in “less journalism”, including a drop in its national and local news output, the National Union of Journalists has warned.
Ministers have reportedly refused the BBC’s pleas for an increase in line with inflation, as it has received in recent years, saying they expect the corporation to make the “same efficiency savings as everyone else”, according to the Times.
The next BBC licence fee settlement will cover five years from April 2022. The licence fee currently brings in £3.8bn according to the BBC’s annual report for 2020/21. The previous year it was £3.5bn, meaning an increase of 7% after the household cost rose in line with inflation from £154.50 to £157.50 in April 2020.
The NUJ claimed the BBC’s funding has already been cut by about 25% in real terms since 2010 and that director-general Tim Davie’s (pictured) plan to move 200 news jobs out of London over the next few years needs the inflation-matching increase to work.
Paul Siegert, the NUJ’s national broadcasting organiser, said any below-inflation increase would be a “hammer blow” for the BBC, stifling its ability to maintain its levels of journalism.
“The corporation has proved itself to be an essential component of British society, especially during the global health pandemic, and audiences have been glued to their services when the country has been put under lockdown,” he said.
Siegert said the effective funding cut would “mean the BBC will be able to offer less to the public – less local and national news, less journalism, less on the radio, website and TV, and less diversity and less quality programming and output.
“There is certainly the money available to sufficiently finance the BBC – it is the political will and support that has been shortcoming,” he added. “This is the first real test Tim Davie has faced since becoming director-general and if this is the outcome then he has been found sadly wanting.”
BBC News has already had to cut more than £80m per year from its budget and, according to the NUJ, staff agreed to accept a below-inflation pay rise earlier this month.
Downing Street on Tuesday declined to deny the Times’ reporting. According to PA, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We haven’t set out our proposals for the licence fee at this point.
“The next settlement covers the next five years from April 2022. No decisions have been made and we’d announce a decision to parliament in due course.”
The BBC declined to comment.
Picture: PA Wire/PA Images/Andrew Milligan