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John Simpson slams BBC licence fee deal

BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson has slammed last month's hastily agreed BBC licence fee settlement, claiming that the deal leaves the corporation "at the government's mercy".

In a letter published in the new edition of in-house BBC magazine Ariel, Simpson accused the government of an "unprecedented attack against the BBC" after it attempted to impose the £556m cost of paying for free TV licences for over-75s on the corporation.

To avoid the massive financial burden, the BBC agreed to have the TV licence fee frozen at £142.50 for six years up to 2017. It will also assume the cost of funding the BBC World Service, BBC Monitoring and part of S4C's budget from 2015.

The corporation will further have to contribute £300m to the rollout of high speed broadband to rural areas and financially support a range of local TV services.

Simpson, who recently expressed his fears for the BBC's future, said that the settlement will leave the corporation highly vulnerable in negotiations with the government.

He likened the process to the interrogation torture technique of waterboarding, as the BBC will become "so desperate" that it could be tempted to compromise its own independence.

"The government has staged an unprecedented attack against the BBC. The rules were thrown into the rubbish bin, and [BBC director general] Mark Thompson was forced to agree to a deal which puts the BBC's future as an independent public service broadcaster into serious question," Simpson wrote.

"Our income will shrink year-on-year for seven long years, by amounts that are unknown because we can't tell how high inflation will be over that period of time.

"It'll be like waterboarding. As our head is pulled out of the bath, we'll be so desperate that we can't be certain what compromises and deals we might be tempted to make. We will be at the government's mercy."

Speaking today to BBC Radio 5 Live's Victoria Derbyshire, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt defended the "very good" licence fee deal for the BBC, arguing that it will bring "security and stability for the next six years".

Hunt accepted that the "substantial" budget cut of around 16% in real terms will result in a "tough period" for the BBC, but he is confident that the corporation will still be able to deliver quality services.

"The main reason why I think [the settlement] is good is because the thing that worried me most about the BBC when I was in opposition was that when it came to the way it used licence fee payers' money, we had this drip feed of stories about the way the BBC was spending money which we felt was very out of step with the way the public were," he said.

"What we've got here effectively is a 16% cut in the BBC's costs, but the BBC has said that this will primarily be efficiency savings. They are confident that they can continue to deliver the core of what we all love the BBC for within the means that they have at their disposal.

"So we have the best of the BBC, but have addressed many of the concerns that people had about the BBC. So I think it's a very good deal all around."


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