Published on: 19 January 2022 in Industry

Directors UK CEO Andy Harrower on the impact of freezing the BBC Licence Fee

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At Directors UK we are deeply concerned about the impact that freezing the BBC licence fee, and the predicted shortfall of £285 million, will have on the BBC’s services and content, on audiences, and on the production workforce.  

We know that this freeze represents a real-terms cut in budgets and, following years of budgetary cuts and cost savings at the BBC, this will lead to some difficult decisions as to what stays and what goes, and how much it can invest in content. 

As money on screen becomes more stretched, and production budgets and delivery schedules become increasingly squeezed, programme-makers are often being asked to do more for less as they try to deliver the same quality and innovative programming under tighter constraints. This has a significant and unsustainable impact on our members and their production teams.

But of course, the impact of the licence fee freeze goes further than just what we see on our TV screens. The BBC is not just a provider of television content. The BBC licence fee funds a wide variety of services: TV, radio, iPlayer, news, websites, film, the World Service and more. The BBC plays an enormous role promoting UK culture, talent, and storytelling globally and is central to the success of the UK creative economy. 

As competition in the global market continues to grow, we are concerned that substantial reductions in the funding of the BBC could undermine or diminish its unique global position and influence. The Government should not underestimate the value of a well-respected, strong and stable BBC. The UK production sector is heavily reliant on the BBC for its investment in production, employment and training.

It is also vitally important to our culture and society that the British public has access to television services that reflect the UK, bring the nation together, and which inform and educate. In that spirit, we‘ve been encouraged by a greater commitment to the Nations and Regions to better represent both talent and audiences outside of the capital. Not to mention the significant role the BBC has played during the pandemic, demonstrating what it does best in delivering a universally accessible public service at a time of crisis through news, entertainment and educational resources, on TV, radio and online. Something that is neither possible, or appropriate, for non-domestic subscription services to fulfil. 

This is why we will be urging that the principle of universality of access is not lost in debates over the future of the licence fee, and that the BBC remains free from political or commercial interference. it is highly likely that a shift to a more commercially focused funding model would result in more commercially driven content commissioning. With so many elements of the BBC’s performance and provision being dependent on funding, it is vital that its funding is subject to the same open scrutiny as all other aspects of the Charter process.

We know that the BBC isn’t perfect. But we do not see any value in curbing the BBC’s ability and ambition at a point in time when the UK should be looking to build on its soft power and showcase its expertise and content for export. If the Government continues to constrain budgets and add regulatory hurdles to the BBC it will struggle to survive. And that will be hugely damaging to the UK, and the UK’s creative industries. 

We will be writing to the Culture Secretary and Shadow Culture Secretary to outline our concerns. 

Andy Harrower, Directors UK CEO

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