BBC 'must not cut core services'

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned the BBC not to cut core services as it struggles to deal with a real terms reduction in its licence fee.

Mr Hunt told MPs it was up to the BBC to make decisions about which services it invests in, but that he expected savings to come from efficiencies rather than core services.

"At a time of great pressure on the public purse and on licence fee payers, it was right that the BBC should look to make efficiency savings just like the rest of the public sector," he told members of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.

"It was in that context that we agreed on the 16% real terms reduction in the licence fee, so I would be concerned if there was a reduction in the BBC's core services."

He added: "I would be very concerned if I thought that rather than making efficiency savings, which I believe the BBC is capable of, they were actually making their savings by cutting into core services."

Mr Hunt was responding to a question from Therese Coffey, Tory MP for Suffolk Coastal and a member of the select committee, who expressed concern about possible cuts to local radio coverage in order to save money at the BBC.

The Culture Secretary unveiled a deal in October with the BBC to freeze the licence fee for six years at £145.50, equivalent to a 16% budget cut in real terms.

Mr Hunt also defended the independence of newly appointed BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten of Barnes.

He told MPs that Lord Patten, former Governor of Hong Kong and Conservative Party chairman, had shown independence in "spades" throughout his career.

"The chairman of the BBC Trust has to be politically impartial and has to defend what I think what most people would consider the most important thing about the BBC of all which is its independence," Mr Hunt said.

"I had to choose the best person for the job on the basis of the people I interviewed and my consideration was that someone who has demonstrated in his career that he is able to stand up to Margaret Thatcher and able to stand up to the Chinese government, is someone who whether you agree or disagree with the individual decisions he took, has demonstrated that independence in spades, that is why I decided he was the right person for the job."