Shadow culture secretary Chris Bryant says he does not trust the Conservative promise of a licence-fee increase in line with inflation.
The politician said today that he believed that the Government were using language that suggested it wanted “wriggle room” on the pledge.
Last week it emerged that the BBC had extracted the promise of a licence-fee increase linked to CPI [Consumer Price Index] inflation in return for a commitment to pay for licence-fees for the over 75s.
But Bryant told a Broadcasting Press Guild breakfast today that he believed that the Government’s promise may be reneged on following proposals to set up a new panel examining the BBC’s size and purpose announced at the weekend.
The panel of eight includes the likes of former Channel 5 boss Dawn Airey and former Ofcom chair Colette Bowe, both of whom have been critical of the size of the BBC in the past.
Bryant said that the BBC and the Government was currently disputing whether the new panel would examine its “scale and scope”, which the Government wants or its “purpose and scope” which the corporation favours.
He said: “There’s quite a big row [between the Government and the BBC] going on now because the original version that Osborne and Whittingdale wanted was scale and scope. The BBC said no, not scale: purpose and scope is fine – what the BBC should and shouldn’t be doing – but not its size, because that is reopening the question of the licence-fee settlement which we think we have just done a deal on. Which is, we’ll take on the over-75s in exchange for CPI inflation.
“I think the Government thinks ‘we might not give you CPI inflation’. There is a row. It sounds like a tiny little tweak but I think it’s quite a significant one.”
Bryant also said he believed that culture secretary John Whittingdale – a former colleague on the department of media and sport select committee – will be feeling “ashamed” about his role in the negotiations with the BBC over the over-75s fees.
“I think John will probably be feeling a bit ashamed. He looked a bit ashamed last week, at least about the process.
“Every politician likes being liked… and it’s going to be much more difficult now.”
The speed and nature of the deal between the BBC and the Government has been criticised in many quarters including by the chair of the BBC Trust Rona Fairhead and director-general Tony Hall.
In his address to journalists, Bryant said he was opposed to the privatisation of Channel 4 but said that, like the BBC, the broadcaster had a “problem” with the high salaries of its executives.
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