Monday, July 6, 2015

Another deal done in a corner

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale came to the Commons at 3.30pm today, to polish the lastest nastiness that is indicative of the modern Conservative way of running the country.

He confirmed the weekend leak that the Chancellor wishes the BBC to take over the cost of free tv licences for households where somebody is over 75. This proposal has apparently been 'agreed' by the BBC, and will be phased in during 2018/19, and fully effective from 2020/21.  Both sides acknowledge that the commitment to this benefit runs to the end of this new Parliament - the BBC's Nick Robinson says that the Libdems urged the Government to scrap it during the Coalition.

In return for having Osborne's foot off his neck, Lord Hall has apparently won the concession of a lower top-slicing of the licence fee for broadband roll-out, which will fall in steps from £80m in 2017/18 to zero in 2020/21. And next year the Government has promised legislation which will allow public service broadcasters to charge for "catch-up services" delivered to computers etc. Plus there's a restatement of a pledge to allow the next licence fee deal to rise in line with CPI, provided the BBC demonstrates it is well managed, and will make savings and efficiencies in line with other public sector bodies.

Forgetting the monstrous wrongness of making the BBC responsible for social welfare, the farmyard economics are pretty simple and stark. The BBC faces a big cut in income from 2018/19 rising to at least £650m in 2020. In a roll of the dice between inflation and ageing, the gap may narrow and pigs might fly. The Tories will argue that a giant corporation like the BBC can absorb a half-billion hit, of what looks like 20% of annual income, over five years - cutting by 4% a year. Which may well be Osborne's public sector cut when we get to Wednesday. But, of course, he has to be a clever dick about it.

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