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‘Complacent’, ‘unambitious’ BBC has ‘ducked the hard choices’ and failed to shore up financial plan for future

21 May 2021

The Public Accounts Committee today reports concerns that the BBC, ‘at a critical juncture’ in its history, appears ‘complacent and unconcerned’ in the face of a series of commercial and financial challenges:

  • the time people spend using its services is declining
  • it recently lost its place as the media provider that young people spend most time with
  • around 200,000 new households each year choose to opt out of paying for the TV licence
  • licence fee sales have fallen by nearly half a million in the past two years
  • there is considerable uncertainty about the impact of the loss of government funding for free TV licences for the over-75s

The BBC is currently in negotiations with the government about the future level of the licence fee but ‘appears to have put off the hard choices’ about the cuts to frontline staff and content that it concedes it will be forced to make.

The Committee calls the BBC’s aim to increase its commercial returns by 30% over five years ‘unambitious’: commercial returns currently represent less than 6% of the income the BBC gets from the licence fee. Plans for an increased presence in the nations and regions are ‘unconvincing’.

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

“We can see the BBC might be reticent to share detailed plans at this delicate moment, in the middle of licence fee negotiations, but we expected a clearer vision of how it will address the decline in its audiences and revenues, and manage the global transition from traditional TV viewing to online. 

The BBC has enjoyed a truly unique position of privilege and trust, it should have been capitalising on the cosy buffer of its guaranteed income from taxpayers. Moving bits of this Titanic organisation around the country, reorganising the deckchairs, just won’t cut it in the face of intense and rapidly changing global competition. The BBC needs to radically re-engineer its offer.”

Further information

Image: PA