Bectu calls for future government to commit to free licenses for over 75s

22 Nov 2019

BBC Broadcasting House

Bectu has written to the leaders of all major UK political parties calling on them to commit to take back responsibility for providing free TV licenses for the over 75s if they are in government after the general election on 12 December.

In the letter, Head of Bectu Philippa Childs argues that the current policy of forcing the BBC to provide free licences will have an impact on output, saying that “The BBC can’t be expected to continue to provide its remarkable range of services with less resource.”

The union has been fighting a long campaign to reverse the policy which would have a major impact on staff at the BBC.

Childs explains:

“We are proud of the BBC and proud of its on-going status as Britain’s most trusted news source. This should be protected and cherished as a vital part of our democracy, as we remember the Royal Charter and Reith’s vision for the BBC – to educate, inform and entertain. But in order to do this, the BBC must be properly funded. It must ensure staff are well trained and have the right tools to do their jobs. It means ensuring that the BBC does not become a political football. And it means ensuring that future financial settlements are made in a considered and sustainable way.”

Political parties are currently finalising their manifestoes ahead of the general election, and some parties have already committed to reversing or reviewing the policy.

Childs ends the letter with a challenge to party leaders:

“This election campaign offers you the opportunity to publically commit to the licence fee as the means of adequately funding the BBC so that it is able to continue to fulfil its remit to inform, educate and entertain future generations, both in the UK and across the globe.”

Full letter below:

I am writing to you on behalf of the Bectu sector of Prospect union who represent thousands of members working for the BBC.

The decision by the BBC to restrict the subsidy of free TV Licences to citizens aged 75 who are also in receipt of pension credit has understandably caused much concern. The reason for this change was the rushed, behind closed doors negotiation on the licence fee renewal that took place in July 2015. The Conservative government looking to secure spending cuts was keen to ensure the BBC took on financial responsibility for the over 75s licence fee subsidy. The BBC should not have been placed in this position; we have consistently argued that a public broadcaster should not be responsible for implementing welfare policy.

In the Charter Period 2006-2017 the BBC was required to make £1.6bn of savings. The estimated cost to the BBC of taking on the over 75s subsidy in its new form is put at £250m a year from 2020. Annually the BBC spends £656m on its national and local BBC Radio output. This places in context the significant financial challenge the BBC faces. The BBC can’t be expected to continue to provide its remarkable range of services with less resource.

The BBC makes a significant contribution to regional economies and the UK creative sector (worth over £100bn in 2018). The BBC has provided training and the creative space for thousands of writers, producers, directors, make-up artists, technicians ,journalists, musicians, actors and presenters who have gone on to flourish and succeed in commercial broadcasting. Without the support of the BBC many will not have been able to tread that path. The establishment in 2011 of a digital and creative hub in Salford Quays has bought over 7,000 jobs to the North West and the economic benefits of the BBC are felt just as keenly in Belfast, Cardiff and Glasgow.

The BBC remains the global standard in broadcasting and in providing news and information the world over. We are proud of the BBC and proud of its on-going status as Britain’s most trusted news source. This should be protected and cherished as a vital part of our democracy, as we remember the Royal Charter and Reith’s vision for the BBC – to educate, inform and entertain. But in order to do this, the BBC must be properly funded. It must ensure staff are well trained and have the right tools to do their jobs. It means ensuring that the BBC does not become a political football. And it means ensuring that future financial settlements are made in a considered and sustainable way.

The DCMS Select Committee has been clear on the need for the 2021 licence fee negotiations to be transparent, conducted with the involvement of licence fee payers and with parliamentary oversight. The BBC is a unique and much loved institution and Bectu believes it offers licence fee payers outstanding value for money. Bectu is calling on all political parties to state that they will take back responsibility for the policy and funding of free TV licences for the over 75’s. This election campaign offers you the opportunity publically commit to the licence fee as the means of adequately funding the BBC so that it is able to continue to fulfil its remit to inform, educate and entertain future generations, both in the UK and across the globe.

Yours sincerely

Philippa Childs
Head of Bectu