Lord Patten: Services will suffer unless licence fee goes up

The chair of the BBC Trust has warned that services could suffer if the corporation maintains the freeze on its licence fee.

Speaking at a parliamentary lunch yesterday, Lord Patten said: “I have no doubt that a smaller licence fee would result in a cut in services.”

He added: “It surprises me that support for the licence fee is higher than it was two or three years ago.”

The licence fee has been held at £145.50 since 2010 and will be kept at the same level until at least 2015.

Although Lord Patten said that the fee could have to increase to maintain the BBC’s output, he admitted that it had to be seen to spend money in a more responsible ways after public confidence in the corporation had been shaken by recent scandals.

“We should be seen to be spending the licence fee payers’ money not as if it was cash out of an ATM to use as we wanted. We have to demonstrate we are using licence fee payers’ money reasonably.”

He added that the BBC “still had one or two very difficult stories to deal with”, including issues around severance pay following the high-profile departures of senior figures including former director general George Entwistle.

Lord Patten said he was “pleased” that Tony Hall had agreed a cap on severance pay of £150,000, a figure which he said “appears reasonable”.

He also praised the BBC’s move to Salford – saying it had had a particularly positive impact on sports and children’s coverage – and expressed a hope that recent controversies such as the false Newsnight allegations over Lord McAlpine would not reign in its news coverage.

“You cannot do investigative journalism in a way that always avoids errors,” he said.

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