Give us more money or David Attenborough gets it! That’s the BBC’s usual response when the licence fee comes up.
And so it was last week when Director General Tim Davie was interviewed in that very independent of places – the Radio 4 Today studio – about the Government’s proposals to freeze the fee for the next two years before abolishing it in 2027.
It was, claimed Mr Davie, tantamount to a real-terms cut of £285 million a year, adding up to close to £2 billion for the remaining six years of the agreement.
When Director General Tim Davie (pictured in 2020) was interviewed about the Government’s proposals to freeze the fee for the next two years before abolishing it in 2027 last week it was, he claimed, tantamount to a real-terms cut of £285 million a year
The BBC had already made large savings, and it couldn’t be expected to make any more without cuts to frontline programmes, he added, and ‘everything’ was on the table.
In other words, there might be no more David Attenborough tramping through the jungle looking at wonderful plants and animals – although why the Corporation would dump one of its most successful programmes rather than, say, little-watched comedians spewing out Left-wing propaganda on late-night shows is puzzling.
Of course, like any organisation, the BBC could find ways to cut money if it really wanted to.
In fact, there is an easy way to cut £285 m from its budget: just carry on doing what it did last year when Covid stopped or delayed the making of some series.
The BBC ended up with a £290 m surplus. Many viewers won’t have noticed the difference.
Here, though, is a list of ways of cutting £285 m for discussion at the next BBC board meeting:
Executive pay: £1.5m
Mr Davie in September 2021. Boris Johnson is paid £157,372 a year – small beer compared with Mr Davie’s basic salary of £429,000 last year
When he started tackling the vast public debt in 2010, then Prime Minister David Cameron told high-paid public sector employees they would need an extremely good excuse to be paid more than him.
But the memo didn’t seem to get through to the BBC, which carried on paying fancy salaries.
Boris Johnson is paid £157,372 a year – small beer compared with Mr Davie’s basic salary of £429,000 last year. With pension payments and other benefits, he ended up with £471,000.
If the BBC trimmed the basic salaries of its ten most senior executives to that of the PM, it could save serious money: £1.51 m, in fact.
Presenters’ pay: £7.9m
The BBC has been shamed into trimming some of its most excessive presenter salaries since it was obliged to make public any salaries over £150,000.
Yet Gary Lineker is still paid £1.36 m a year to present Match of the Day. Zoe Ball is paid £1.13 m for her show on Radio 2.
In news and current affairs, 32 presenters were paid more than the PM last year, with Huw Edwards (£425,000) and Fiona Bruce (£405,000) the highest paid.
Gary Lineker, pictured, is still paid £1.36 m a year to present Match of the Day
If these salaries were all trimmed back to the £157,000 earned by Mr Johnson, it would save £2.5 m a year.
But it doesn’t end there. There are 17 radio presenters listed as receiving more than the PM. After Zoe Ball, Steve Wright was the next highest paid, receiving £465,000. Cutting these salaries accordingly could save £2.92 m.
There are a further 14 miscellaneous presenters – or ‘on-air’ talent as the BBC calls them – who received more than the PM, including Stephen Nolan (£405,000) and Vanessa Feltz (£390,000).
Slashing these back could save a further £2.51 m – making £7.93 m in total savings.
Don’t bring back BBC3: £40m
BBC3, supposed to provide content for 16 to 30-year-olds, has already been closed down once, in 2016, when the BBC argued that young people were watching more on-demand TV, making a whole TV channel superfluous.
Instead, the BBC put its shows out on the internet, where some, such as Fleabag and Normal People, have been successful.
Why, then, now spend £80 m – twice what is currently being spent on BBC3’s online shows – relaunching a channel which the BBC closed only six years ago? Leaving things as they are would save £40 m a year.
Get rid of BBC4: £29m
When BBC4 started in 2002, its remit was to produce at least 100 hours of original documentaries a year.
But last year the Corporation announced that all new programmes would be aired on BBC2 instead, and BBC4 would become a ‘showcase’ for its ‘rich archive’ – in other words, repeats.
Given that it no longer has much of a purpose, the £29m spent on BBC4 last year could be saved.
Close down Radio 1 xtra: £8m
Back in the 1970s, the BBC was pretty straightforward: there were two TV channels and four radio stations, catering for pop music, easy listening, classical music and factual programmes.
Now, there is a plethora of extra stations as the BBC tries to cater for various sections of the population – and tramples on the toes of commercial radio in the process.
According to BBC-speak, Radio 1 Xtra is a ‘digital urban contemporary’ channel – which, to the rest of us, means it pumps out nothing but rap, already well catered for on Radio 1. According to the BBC’s latest annual report, it cost £8 m last year.
Do away with Radio 4 Extra: £3m
Like the TV channel BBC4, Radio 4 Extra is a depository for repeats – broadcasting stuff pretty indistinguishable from what is being broadcast simultaneously on Radio 4.
Much of the material is available on the internet. The world could easily live without it – saving the BBC £3 m a year
Cut Radio 6 Music: £12m
Radio 6, whose remit is to play music from the 1960s to the current day, is really just duplicating Radio 2’s output.
If the BBC’s budget needs a trim, it is an obvious target. The Corporation could concentrate on a core of channels rather than trying to be all things to all people.
Scrap CBBC: £58m
CBBC’s Blue Peter presenter Mwaksy Mudenda. CBBC, for those seven to 12, is the most expensive BBC channel of all, in terms of cost per viewer
You need only one children’s channel, and it should be the successful one, CBeebies, which is for children up to the age of six.
In contrast, CBBC, for those seven to 12, is the most expensive BBC channel of all, in terms of cost per viewer. Scrapping it would save £58 m.
And given CBeebies’ success, it could take on some of the better projects for the older children.
Stop wasting so much on taxis and hotels: £5m
One employee who wrote in Ariel used the BBC’s taxi booking system and was quoted £87 for a trip from Tonbridge to Gatwick Airport – compared with £45 charged by local taxi firms
In 2020, it was revealed the BBC had wasted £350,000 in one year on train fares for journeys which were never made, hotel rooms never occupied and taxis never used.
In the three years to 2014, according to a piece in the BBC’s now-defunct staff magazine Ariel, the BBC spent £34 m on taxi fares.
Even when booked taxis are actually used, the BBC has a habit of paying over the odds for them.
One employee who wrote in Ariel used the BBC’s taxi booking system and was quoted £87 for a trip from Tonbridge to Gatwick Airport – compared with £45 charged by local taxi firms.
Let’s use this as a guide and estimate that the BBC could save around half of its taxi bill – saving around £5 m a year.
Trim local radio and TV: £17m
In 2018-19, the BBC spent £118 m on local radio channels in England, £28 m in Wales and £26 m in Scotland.
Yet only 12.7 per cent of the population listen to BBC local radio stations and much of the local output overlaps.
Every local TV news bulletin, for example, includes a local weather forecast, broadcast just moments after the national forecast.
It is bizarre to have separate forecasts for London and the South East – it is impossible to give a weather forecast for the South East region without inadvertently also giving one for London.
Regional language stations are especially expensive. BBC Alba, the Gaelic language TV station, cost £7.9 million last year – 14.3p for every hour someone watched it.
There is also a Gaelic radio station, Radio nan Gaidheal, which cost £4 m – 20.8p per hour.
In Wales, Radio Cymru cost £13.5 m – working out at 16.9p per minute that anyone watched it.
Radio 1, by contrast, cost 6.2p per minute listened to and Radio 4 only 4.9p. Let’s trim 10 per cent of the local radio and TV budget and save £17 m.
Stop wasting money on fancy buildings: £90m
BBC studios and offices at MediaCityUK in Salford Quays. The latest NAO report said the BBC spent £273 m a year running its portfolio of 154 buildings
In 2015, the National Audit Office (NAO) looked at Broadcasting House and revealed the building was costing £89 m a year to run.
And that was in spite of shifting some of its operations to Salford.
The latest NAO report said the BBC spent £273 m a year running its portfolio of 154 buildings.
Not only was it paying more than other organisations were paying for similar buildings, but 12.7 per cent of its estate was vacant.
With more people now working from home, let’s assume the BBC could stop using a third of its portfolio of buildings and save around £90 m a year.
Save money on sets: £14m
An EastEnders set as filming begins on the soap last week. In EastEnders’ heyday in 1987, an average of 21.1 m watched each episode; by 2017, it was down to just 6.68 m
In EastEnders’ heyday in 1987, an average of 21.1 m watched each episode; by 2017, it was down to just 6.68 m.
But that hasn’t stopped the BBC throwing money at a new set for the programme. It was supposed to cost £57 m but according to the NAO, it will end up costing £86.7 m – enough to build 1,000 real social homes rather than a few facades for Albert Square.
Let’s assume the BBC could this year avoid wasting just half the money it overspent on rebuilding Albert Square – and save £14 m.
TOTAL SAVED: £285.4m
‘Take bias seriously’, MPs tell BBC boss: Director General Tim Davie is accused of glossing over anti-Tory slant in his warning on budget cut
Tory MPs have accused the BBC’s Director General of seeking to underplay concerns about the Corporation’s impartiality.
During an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last week, Tim Davie denied anti-Conservative bias, adding: ‘I think I am led by the data and the public reaction we get and overall the numbers around impartiality are strong for the BBC.
‘I think we can keep doing better, but it’s not about party politics or party-politicised agendas, it’s about wider points of view.’
But senior Tories accused Mr Davie of ‘changing his tune’ after previously accepting that ensuring impartiality at the BBC was a matter of concern.
‘It seems that Mr Davie does change his tune according to who he is speaking to,’ said Julian Knight, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.
‘When he appears in front of the Select Committee he acknowledges that there are some issues…The BBC needs to have a long hard look at itself in the mirror because clearly not all is well.’
Fellow Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said: ‘Anyone with an interest in politics – or any interest – will be concerned by the obvious anti-Conservative bias shown by the BBC. The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have a problem.’
The BBC said the data referred to by Mr Davie in the Today interview came from several sources including a report published late last year by media watchdog Ofcom.
While numerically more people consider the BBC impartial than any other broadcaster, the Corporation commands far bigger audiences, and the Ofcom report says only 55 per cent of viewers rated BBC TV News highly for its impartiality and more than one in five (21 per cent) gave it a low score.
BBC radio and its online services scored better, but so did ITV News.
Indeed, the Ofcom study expressed concern about BBC bias, stating: ‘Although audiences rate BBC news highly for trust and accuracy, as in previous years, they continue to be less favourable about impartiality.’
The document also reveals that the number of complaints to Ofcom about BBC impartiality has almost tripled in the past four years from 586 in 2017-18 to 1,530 in 2020-2021.
While only 0.6 per cent of these were upheld, Ofcom said: ‘Due impartiality remains a concern for audiences, and impartiality complaints represent a large proportion of complaints received about the BBC.’
Relations between the BBC and the Conservatives have become increasingly fractious with persistent claims that the Corporation is pursing an anti-Tory agenda, which it denies.
Last weekend the MoS revealed Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries had hit the Corporation with a two-year licence fee freeze
Defending its record, a BBC spokesman said: ‘The Ofcom report is clear: more people consider the BBC to be impartial than any other broadcaster, and IPSOS Mori polling in our annual report shows the BBC continues to be seen as by far the most impartial news source.
‘We are acutely aware of the importance of impartiality to our audiences, which is we have a new ten-point plan to raise standards further.’
Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘It’s ironic that the BBC’s fact-checkers are always chasing everybody, but when it comes to the BBC they don’t seem to bother. ‘