Blair warned on licence fee increase

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Tony Blair was urged this week to think again before awarding the BBC a below-inflation increase in the licence fee, for fear it would lead to cutbacks in regional news.

With the cabinet due to endorse the controversial settlement on Thursday, the NUJ sounded the warning as MPs in all parties united in an 11th hour move to urge ministers to reconsider.

The last-minute rebellion comes after Chancellor Gordon Brown overruled media secretary Tessa Jowell before Christmas to insist that the BBC must make do with a below real terms increase in its licence fee.

John Fray, deputy general secretary of the NUJ, told a Commons meeting on Tuesday night that the proposed settlement would put at risk quality and content.

‘Look at what happened at ITV with regional news,’he said. ‘They are letting it drift. It is not good enough.’Afterwards he told Press Gazette: ‘If this leads to the need for the BBC to cut, they will cut where competition is more relaxed.’Gerry Morrisey, assistant general secretary of BECTU, the technicians union, said: ‘We have got a Chancellor who has decided the BBC will be starved of resources and public service broadcasting will deteriorate.’Labour MP John Grogan, who hosted the meeting, said: ‘With the breaking of the link between the licence fee and the RPI, the BBC is put at risk.’If the cabinet endorses the settlement, Jowell will make a Commons announcement, possibly early next week.

MPs at a later date will then be asked to approve it. 

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