Monday, 21 Sep 2020

BBC BLASTED: Tony Hall savaged by irate MPs – ‘Patronising’ and ‘out of touch’

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A group of 66 Conservatives wrote to director-general Tony Hall suggesting that the corporation should instead cut the salaries of stars and spend less on diversity.

Lord Hall told them audiences expect “top talent” and if the BBC capped presenter pay at £150,000 only £10million would be saved.

From August 1, more than three million over-75 households will have to start paying the £157.50 fee, with only those who claim pension credit exempt.

The measure has been delayed by two months because of the pandemic but Lord Hall claimed the changes could not be further postponed without cutting programmes and services. He said the new arrangements will cost the BBC £250million a year while keeping the current benefit it would have to find “around £750million”.

He reminded MPs in 2015 the Government shifted responsibilty for funding the licences to the BBC.

Lord Hall wrote: “Last year, following the largest consultation we’ve ever carried out, the BBC board took what we believe is the fairest decision we could – one that’s fair for the poorest older pensioners but also fair for all licence fee payers.”

He added: “The costs of keeping the concession could not be met in the ways you suggest. Our audiences want and rightly expect top talent. The £100million diversity programme budget is not new money – it ensures we will continue to deliver new programmes that represent and reflect modern Britain and the voices of the whole of the UK.”

But former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey – a leading member of the Blue Collar Conservatism group – accused the BBC of making savings “on the backs of pensioners”.

The MP, who has worked as a BBC presenter, said: “Whereas most people outside of London have thought for a while that the BBC is out of touch, this absolutely confirms it… I think it’s gone from a public service broadcaster to a self-serving broadcaster.”

Mansfield MP Ben Bradley said: “It just shows how out of touch the BBC has become that even when we write to express serious concerns about our public broadcaster, its executives respond with platitudes about unity and universality that bear no relation to reality.”

Great Grimsby MP Lia Nici, who previously worked in television production, described the director-general’s response as “most patronising” and the changes as “just plain mean”.

She said: “He agreed to take responsibility for the over-75s licence fee in a deal with [then chancellor] George Osborne in 2015. In return the Government agreed to allow the licence fee to increase with inflation, and to close the iPlayer loophole…

“The Government stuck to its part of the bargain, so now should the BBC.”

Caroline Abrahams of Age UK urged “a sensible agreement” between ministers and the BBC.

She said: “Whatever Lord Hall says the BBC must know that under their new scheme hundreds of thousands of our poorest pensioners are set to miss out on the free licence they are due, because although they ought to receive pension credit they don’t do so. Equally, the Conservative MPs who are rightly criticising the BBC now must be equally aware that a previous Conservative government precipitated this situation in the first place five years ago and that it’s open to the current one to reverse the position, if they choose to
do so.”

A BBC spokeswoman said retaining the current system would have meant “closures” of services such as BBC Two and BBC Four, especially damaging to “older people who use the BBC the most”.

She added: “The decision to start the new scheme in August has not been easy but delaying the introduction of the scheme has cost the BBC over £70million and we cannot afford to delay any further without further impacting programmes and services which are already being cut back due to our savings programmes.”

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