SO THE BBC has struck a dubious deal with the Chancellor, George Osborne. Ahead of tomorrow’s budget, the first Tory-only one in a long time, the BBC Director General Tony Hall has agreed that the BBC will carry the £650 million annual cost of free licences for the over-75s.
This has apparently been forced on Mr Hall by Osborne, who appears in typical Tory fashion to be no friend of the BBC. Conservatives often dislike the BBC, which is odd in away as the Corporation is a conservative organisation in many senses.
As the country’s leading media institution, the Beeb should be free from government interference, not forced to carry out policies by the Chancellor. This enormous amount should be spent on programmes, instead of being forced out of the BBC budget. Such a cost can only reduce what the BBC is able to do. Perhaps that is the idea from Osborne: keep weakening the BBC until it is no longer worth defending.
Also, harming the BBC is likely eventually to harm broadcasting as a whole: if the BBC in its pillar-like position has to diminish what it does in the name of Government policy, then the danger is that the general standard will be set lower.
Mr Hall was on the Today programme this morning explaining why this was a decent deal as he had secured other demands, but he sounded like a man admiring the view after walking to the end of the plank.
Also in the news this week has been Camilla Batmanghelidgh, the children’s campaigner and founder of Kids Company. In more hidden shenanigans, she has been told by the Government to step down in return for £3 million funding. Without dwelling on the details, what this illustrates is the dangers of charities taking on work for the government. What happens first is that ministers approach a charity and say: ‘You’re jolly good at doing all this noble work and we’d rather not be so hands-on. So why don’t you work with us?’
This might seem to be a sensible arrangement, and perhaps up to a point it is. But the charities chosen to do such work are often loud advocates for their particular cause, which is right and proper, but then they become a distant arm of government. And at some point the minister will rest a heavy arm on their shoulders and say: ‘Would you mind piping down a bit with all the criticism? Only you do keep laying into us, and yet we’re the ones paying bills.’
This potentially toxic mix of charity and government springs from David Cameron’s once much-vaunted Big Society. Yet these Faustian arrangements are not without their difficulties. Kids Company has done sterling work in looking after thousands of vulnerable and troubled children let down by the state. If such a charity then becomes closely entangled in the state, does that create new problems?
When charities receive government support, this both allows them to do their important work, yet also sees assorted wires crossed. Sometimes crossed wires will give off sparks. Kids Company, shaped round the eccentric energies of its founder, tackles child poverty, something which can arguably be seen as the product of policies by this and other governments. After tomorrow’s Budget, with more cuts promised to the lowest paid, perhaps more charities will be asked to step in. Already it is reported that the Trussell Trust and Shelter have been asked to tone their criticism of the government, which now picks up some of the tab: yet criticising governments is part of what such charities should do, isn’t it?
Today’s Man On Ledge is delivered courtesy of a confusing new laptop. Such are the demands placed on redundant men who lurk on the edge of rocky outcrops.