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I absolutely agree. We can see a pattern in the agreement with the BBC. The BBC was to take on the funding of free TV licences as the Government gradually withdrew their contribution, and then it would take on all such funding from 2020-21. In 2017-18, the cost of those licences was about £655 million. Last year the Government paid £468 million from the Department for Work and Pensions, and this year they will pay £247 million. That is an unsustainable funding model, and the Government knew that, or at least they ought to have known that—if they did not, then they are even more incompetent than I thought— when they entered into the agreement with the BBC.
To fund the licences, the BBC would need to close down channels or radio stations. A number of columnists have written about the money paid to the BBC’s top earners. Some are grossly overpaid, and in my view—this is entirely subjective—some of the so-called talent are not very talented. However, restricting the top rate of pay to £100,000 would not meet the cost of the licences. Again, the Government must have known that, but they want to deflect the blame. They knew there would have been an outcry had they tried to amend or abolish the scheme, so they sent it off to the BBC. When the changes were made, they said, “Nothing to do with us, mate.” They are the “not me, guv” Government—the Arthur Daleys of public administration.
It is the Government who made the decision on TV licences, and it will be really damaging to older people in this country. If someone cannot get out and about, and no one visits them, the TV is their companion. If someone cannot afford to go out and socialise, the TV is their entertainment, their window on the world and a way of keeping their mind active. Unfortunately, that is the lot of many older people in this country. We do not respect or value our older people as we should. I declare an interest, because I am heading that way myself.