The Labour party has accused the government of “cultural vandalism” and looking like a “tin-pot dictatorship” over its reforms to BBC funding which will cost the state broadcaster more than £2 billion over the next six years.
The Sunday Times suggests the move against the BBC is part of Downing Street’s ‘Operation Red Meat’- itself part of ‘Operation Save Big Dog’ – that will see a number of populist policies announced this week to try and distract attention away from the on-going “partygate” scandal and placate disgruntled backbench MPs.
Culture secretary Nadine Dorries tweeted on Sunday (January 16) that the BBC’s next funding review in 2027 “will be the last”, before telling the Commons on Monday it is time to ask if “a mandatory licence fee is appropriate” to fund the corporation.
Dorries – who was kicked off a Tory MPs’ WhatsApp group for defending the PM as a “hero”, in the fallout from the resignation of Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost before Christmas – said the BBC licence fee will be frozen for the next two years to help with the rising cost of living, having tweeted: “The days of the elderly being threatened with prison sentences and bailiffs knocking on doors, are over.”
Lucy Powell, the shadow culture secretary said the decision makes Boris Johnson’s government look like a “tin-pot dictatorship” and asked in the Commons: “Is the licence fee really at the heart of the cost-of-living crisis? Or is this really about their long-standing vendetta against the BBC?
“She (Dorries) won’t stop until her cultural vandalism has destroyed everything that is great about Britain.”
Dorries replied that “it is nobody’s intention to destroy the BBC” which she called a “beacon”, before adding the licence fee is “regressive” and “not a small amount of money”.
The general secretary of the NUJ (National Union of Journalists) called the freeze a “vindictive and desperate act of distraction. Michelle Stanistreet said: “When the evidence of partying, hypocrisy, lies and dissembling is mounting, what does this government do in response? It blames the journalists and the news outlets holding them to scrutiny, and plots acts of revenge.
“The BBC is renowned the world over, it is an economic powerhouse for the UK’s creative industry, yet this government is intent on hobbling a great British institution for its own short-term political gain.”
£2bn funding cut for BBC
The licence fee is set by the government every five years, and has risen in line with inflation since April 2017. Negotiations for 2022’s review began two years ago and the state broadcaster – –celebrating its centenary year – has faced increasing financial pressures resulting in severe job cuts and a voluntary redundancy programme. BBC director general Tim Davie was recently awarded a £75,000 pay rise.
The BBC receives £3.2 billion per year from the licence fee to fund its multiple operations across media and journalism. Alternative ways to pay for the behemoth include a universal levy on broadband subscriptions and from general taxation.