It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Alex Davies-Jones. I want to cover three areas in this important debate on the eve of the Budget: the BBC; protecting the jobs of journalists, on behalf of the National Union of Journalists; and the charitable sector in my own constituency.
Those employed in the cultural and entertainment sector account for a large proportion of the 3 million still excluded from Government support. These sectors provide essential services. They include the charities distributing hot meals to those self-isolating. They also include investigative journalists uncovering the truth, which we really need to know, behind many of the stories about covid. Freelance journalists have been particularly badly impacted during the pandemic. In a time of national crisis, the value of the BBC has never been more important. It has been an outstanding and authoritative news source, providing information as well as educational programming to give parents home-schooling support. Indeed, the BBC is the heart of the UK’s creative economy, but what is not widely appreciated is that it generates £2 for the wider economy for every £1 spent, which sustains thousands of independent production companies and suppliers up and down the country.
Sadly, the Government failed to honour their manifesto promise to keep the free TV licence for the over-75s. Their decision instead to transfer responsibility to the BBC was, in my view, outrageous. Not only has that resulted in a direct attack on the entitlements of elderly people, but the £500 million annual hit to the BBC budget is resulting in programming cuts and more than 500 jobs being lost from BBC news production.
The National Union of Journalists has highlighted the damaging impact of axing investigative reporting such as the award-winning “Inside Out” programme. Will the Minister ensure that, in the next round of charter renewal negotiations, we have a transparent negotiation that ensures that the BBC has the resources it needs to invest in improving news and political coverage?
I also want to mention the charitable sector, and the excellent East Durham Trust in my constituency. Ministers still have not confirmed whether they will extend the deadline to give charities more time to use this much-needed funding. I am grateful for the support of the Chair of the Select Committee, but I would like the Minister to respond in a timely way to allow the charitable sector to plan accordingly. These things—