BBC licence fee: Joan Bakewell urged pensioners to pay-up claiming ‘plenty can afford it’

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Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries told the Commons today that she plans to open a review into the future of the BBC’s funding. It comes after she declared that the next announcement about the licence fee will be the last. Speaking to MPs in Parliament, she said: “The BBC has been entertaining and informing us for 100 years, and I want it to continue to thrive and be a global beacon in the UK and in the decades to come.

“But this is 2022, not 1922. We need a BBC that is forward-looking and ready to meet the challenges of modern broadcasting.”

Before this, Ms Dorries said it was time to discuss new ways to find and sell “great British content,” and that the “days of the elderly being threatened with prison sentences and bailiffs knocking on doors” were over.

Her comments come as unconfirmed reports say the Government is expected to freeze the £159-a-year fee for two years.

A BBC source said there had been similar speculation before.

Currently, the licence fee’s existence is guaranteed until at least December 31, 2027 by the BBC’s royal charter, which sets out the broadcaster’s funding and purpose.

The annual fee is then set by the Government, which announced in 2016 that it would rise in line with inflation for five years from April 2017, this money paying for BBC shows and services including TV, radio, the BBC website, podcasts, iPlayer and apps.

Debate over the legitimacy of the licence fee and whether it should be scrapped has raged in recent years, the argument having been fuelled further after the corporation decided to end the over-75s right to a free TV licence in August 2021.

This was after the responsibility for TV licences for the over-75s was passed from the Government to the BBC as part of the broadcaster’s last royal charter, a point which some organisations, like Age UK, say is the Conservative Government’s fault.

Many have long stood by the BBC, even when suggestions that it could charge the elderly for a TV licence were floated.

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Baroness Joan Bakewell, the veteran broadcaster who spent some of her career with the BBC and is a Labour Party peer, attempted to rally pensioners to pay for the licence fee if they could afford to in order to save the broadcaster back in 2015.

She said she was “outraged and distressed” by the Government’s decision to make the BBC itself fund the cut of free licences for the over-75s.

She argued that plenty of “well-heeled middle-class people” like herself could easily afford to pay.

Writing on Twitter in a bid to help the BBC, she received a fair amount of support from fellow pensioners.

She said: “Plenty of people over-75 could afford to pay the licence fee and would be pleased to do so to save the BBC they love.”

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Baroness Bakewell later told the Radio Times: “Right now I’m told the best plan is to get in touch with TV Licensing, who collect the fee, and tell them you want to start paying again.

“If you love the BBC, and if you can afford £2.80 a week, what are you waiting for?”

The 88-year-old, who became a lifetime Labour peer in 2010, has long criticised the Government on its position on the BBC.

She branded the Government “sneaky” for trying to paint the BBC as the organisation deciding who receives Government support.

She previously said: “It’s one of the social benefits the Government bestows on the old, like free bus passes and the winter fuel allowance.

“I think it’s quite sneaky to roll out social policy disguised as a BBC contribution to austerity.

It isn’t for the BBC to decide how and who receives Government support.”

She continued: “Life gets bleaker as you get older. But there is always the BBC. It’s always there, with a selection of enjoyable stuff, broad enough to satisfy us all.

“In fact, there’s nothing on the planet like it: radio in all its rich variety, television of world-class standard, award-winning drama, concerts, the Proms, sitcoms, quizzes of every kind, gardening, Strictly, The Great British Bake Off (which has since moved to Channel 4); all with no intrusive commercials.

“What a blessing!”

But her rallying calls appear to have fallen on deaf ears as lengthy negotiations have already taken place between BBC bosses and the Government over a future funding settlement, with the idea of freezing the licence fee discussed back in October 2021.

A Government source confirmed the BBC discussions were ongoing, but said that the Culture Secretary recognised pressure on people’s wallets, and that the licence fee was an “important bill” for people on low incomes and pensioners, which ministers could control.

A BBC source said of the fee freeze: “Anything less than inflation would put unacceptable pressure on the BBC finances after years of cuts.”

They added there were “very good reasons for investing in what the BBC can do for the British public, and the creative industries and the UK around the world”.

Ms Dorries, who was appointed as Culture Secretary last September previously said she believed the BBC should exist but that it needed to be able to take on competitors such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Then, at the Conservative party conference in October, she said it needs “real change” in order to represent the entire UK and accused it of “groupthink”.

Labour’s Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell accused the Prime Minister and Ms Dorries of seeming “hell-bent on attacking this great British institution because they don’t like its journalism”.

She said: “British broadcasting and our creative industries are renowned around the world and should be at the heart of global Britain.”

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