Future of the BBC – WGGB response

The Government’s plan to freeze the BBC licence fee for two years and an expected decision to scrap it entirely in 2027 would amount to an act of cultural vandalism that will have far-reaching implications for writers and other creative workers, audiences and the UK’s creative ecology and economy, WGGB has said.

The announcement by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries on Twitter yesterday (16 January 2022) has been widely criticised as an attempt by Boris Johnson to save his own premiership in the wake of Downing Street party allegations.

The Culture Secretary is expected to confirm in the Commons this afternoon (17 January 2022) that the cost of the annual BBC licence fee will remain at £159 until 2024 and then move to a new funding model in 2027 when the current licence fee funding deal expires. Dorries said: “This licence fee announcement will be the last.”

The freeze represents a real-time cut, against a backdrop of increased production costs due to the pandemic and high inflation. It is estimated that the BBC will have to make hundreds of millions of pounds in spending cuts in order to balance its books. This comes hot on the heels of the multi-million pound funding cuts the BBC had to endure when the Government decided to stop paying the TV licence fee for the over 75s.

Throughout its history WGGB has campaigned for an independent and publicly-funded BBC, most recently when it faced charter renewal in 2016. The union will be consulting with its TV and radio writing members to devise campaigning activity to oppose the current plans.

WGGB General Secretary Ellie Peers said:

“The BBC is a major commissioner of high-quality, world-renowned scripted drama and comedy, in radio as well as television, and this decision is a hammer blow to our members, other creative workers, audiences, the industry and the UK economy as a whole.

“Unlike the streaming giants it is often compared to, the BBC isn’t just a content provider – it is a public service. Its BBC Writers Room provides opportunities for the next generation of scriptwriters; BBC Bitesize provides free online study support for school-age pupils, a lifeline for parents during lockdown; while its research and development arm has led the way with innovative technology in broadcasting.

“Every £1 of the BBC’s direct economic activity generates a total of £2.63 in the economy, so this a woeful act of ideological self-harm, not to mention a last-ditch desperate act of distraction by the Government. We will oppose these cuts all the way.”

WGGB Treasurer Gail Renard said:

“As Treasurer of the WGGB, I can tell you that this licence fee freeze will cost the BBC around £285 million in potential funding. That means we’re going to lose even more of our services and the shows that we all love.

“The BBC is a broadcaster respected and envied the world over and the best soft power that the UK could have. This is Death By A Thousand Cuts. This is unacceptable.”

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