BBC Trust calls for law change to prevent repeat of shotgun licence fee subsidy deal for over-75s

The Trust has called for clear boundaries around the Government’s future involvement in the BBC

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The Independent Online

The BBC Trust has called for a change in the law to prevent a repeat of the emergency licence fee deal which required the BBC to subsidise free services for the over-75s, without any public consultation.

In a bullish response to George Osborne’s imposition of a deal, which required the BBC to bear the costs of a major social policy commitment, which was cobbled together days ahead of the Chancellor’s Budget, the Trust called for clear boundaries around the Government’s involvement in the BBC in future.

Publishing its response to the Government’s Green Paper on the BBC’s future, which proposed radical change to its size and scope, the Trust called for “a legal obligation in the next Charter for the Government to undertake a public process of consultation with the BBC’s regulator as part of any future funding negotiations, and to seek Parliamentary approval for any changes to funding, so that the licence fee cannot be set without proper public scrutiny and debate.”

The body, which could be abolished under the Government’s plans, added: “Additional protections for the BBC’s independence should be considered, such as an eleven-year Charter to provide more time between fixed date General Elections and the end of the next Charter.”

Rona Fairhead, BBC Trust chairman, said that “although we were involved throughout the (licence fee) process, the process itself fell well short of what the public had a right to expect. It is the people’s BBC, not the politicians’ BBC and the public should have a vital say in decisions that fundamentally affect the services that they receive for their money.”

Responding to proposals that the BBC could withdraw from popular entertainment programming, the Trust said the BBC should remain a “universal and independent broadcaster, which aims to provide something for everyone.” This was backed up by audience research over the past eight years, the body said. Audiences should now have their say over what kind of BBC emerges, the body said.

The Trust set out a series of questions on the BBC’s website asking audiences for their views on the BBC. The survey asks if audiences are satisfied with the quality and distinctiveness of BBC programming.

It also asks: “How much of a priority do you think it should be for the BBC to continue providing and developing its services on newer platforms such as the internet and via mobile phones?”

Ms Fairhead said: “Charter Review will ultimately decide what kind of programmes and services audiences get for the BBC they pay for, so the most important voice in the debate is that of the public and we’ll ensure it is heard. 

“We welcome the Government’s recognition of the importance of the BBC and the value that it brings – that value is built on its providing something for everyone and its independence, which we know audiences support.”

The Trust will examine proposals and initiatives put forward by the BBC Executive, led by Director-General Tony Hall, for the future of the BBC in the Autumn.

Audiences can take part in the BBC survey by visiting www.bbc.co.uk/tomorrowsbbc, emailing tomorrow@bbc.co.uk, or tweeting @tomorrowsbbc or with #tomorrowsbbc