I AM delighted to have recently re-joined the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. Especially so at a time when the BBC is on the cusp of stopping automatically giving free TV licences to all over- 75s.
My first Committee session was fortuitously, therefore, with senior BBC executives – including Lord Tony Hall, the BBC’s Director-General. This enabled me to tackle the BBC head on about this completely unjustifiable cut.
I was very keen to push them on why they were going to breach their part of their earlier bargain with the Government to accept responsibility for covering the cost of free TV licences for all over-75s – which includes around 8,000 of my Shipley constituents.
Far from it being the Government’s fault that a large number of pensioners will be deprived of their free TV licence, as some have suggested, it is the BBC who needs to be reminded that, in return for an increased licence fee for the majority of viewers and the removal of the condition that it had to keep part of the licence fee back for broadband roll-out, it took on the obligation at the time to cover the licence fees of our most elderly citizens. It should not go back on that past deal now.
When I pressed the BBC’s executives, who attended the recent Select Committee hearing, on the cost of these free TV licences, they could not deny the figures the former Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright gave to the House of Commons earlier this year – namely that the BBC paid £453m this year for the concession and, under its new plans, would pay just £250m next year for its new proposed policy. Saving around £200m for itself. The BBC don’t want you to know that.
Yet, even if they weren’t paying less under their new proposal, it is inexcusable that they are seeking to deprive the most elderly and potentially some of the most vulnerable and lonely individuals in this country of their free licences.
Regardless of the past and future costs, I can think of a few ways the BBC could cut their cloth to ensure they could afford to keep honouring the free licences for all over-75s. They could start by focusing on the wages of BBC presenters who get rich or richer on the back of the licence payer. Like football presenter and pundit Gary Lineker – with his eye-watering salary of approximately £1.75m per year – the equivalent of more than 11,000 free TV licences. This is as astonishing as it is outrageous.
If Gary Lineker had earnings of more like £500,000 a year – which is still an eye-wateringly high amount in my opinion – then every single person over the age of 75 in Shipley would be guaranteed their free TV licence. Who would argue against that – apart from the politically opinionated Gary Lineker himself maybe?
Then we could look at other male presenters who have historically been paid more than their female colleagues for doing the same job. From an organisation that makes a huge song and dance every year about the pay gap amongst men and women generally – which is nothing to do with discrimination as many would have us believe – the fact that they have, in some cases, actually been paying women less than men for no justifiable reason at all shows their rank hypocrisy.
Yet still this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is wrong with the BBC and what could change.
I often also find myself asking why it is that the BBC is so afraid of freedom and choice? It always seems confident (some might say self-satisfied) about the quality of its programmes. So why not – in the 21st century – allow people to choose which programmes or which channels or radio stations they want to pay for? We have plenty of choice – high quality news and sports coverage on Sky; superb box sets and dramas on Netflix and Amazon Prime – and we do not risk going to jail for not paying for those services. I am normally more than happy to send additional people to prison but certainly not for anything to do with not paying their TV licence!
If anything tells us that there is something rotten at the core of the BBC – a bastion of institutional political correctness – it is this planned treatment of the over-75s. If people did have a choice over paying the licence fee, as I would like, and were fed up to the back teeth of their perpetual obsession with political correctness, diversity and all of the so-called equality agenda – not to mention the very real concerns over bias – then they could then take direct action and decide not to watch the BBC nor pay the licence fee. That should be their choice.