S4C could face real terms cuts as BBC licence fee due to be frozen for two years
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorris is due to announce a two-year freeze to the BBC license fee this week, which is likely to mean that Welsh language television channel S4C will also face real-terms cuts.
S4C’s public funding will be provided entirely through the licence fee from the 2022-23 financial year onwards, with all future funding decisions made as part of the BBC licence fee funding settlement.
The Welsh language channel might find itself a victim of Boris Johnson’s political woes, as the BBC license fee freeze is one of a number of measures to be announced this week to draw attention away from the scandal and throw red meat in the direction of wavering Conservatives MPs.
The UK Government has briefed that Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary, intends to keep the license fee flat at £159 until April 2024, despite an expected big rise in inflation over the same period.
If there is no increase in the license fee, S4C’s share of that money is unlikely to rise also, leaving it facing possible cutbacks if inflation rises 5% as the Bank of England expects. If the license fee did rise in line with inflation it would be £175 in two years’ time.
The license fee agreement was due to be announced in the summer before Nadine Dorris took the culture brief in a reshuffle, and decided to revisit it. The decision due to be announced by the end of the month will come into effect from 1 April.
Nadine Dorris’ allies briefed the Daily Mail that “the days of state-run television are over” due to the corporations’ “left-leaning mindset,” suggesting that the license fee freeze may only be the start of cutbacks.
A source within the BBC told the Sunday Times that “anything less than inflation would put unacceptable pressure on the BBC finances after years of cuts.”
Campaign groups such as Cymdeithas yr Iaith have called for broadcasting to be devolved from Westminster to the Wales so that S4C can be funded from within the Welsh Government’s budget.
Last month, a Senedd report called for the Welsh Government to have a bigger say when the futures of the BBC and S4C in Wales are discussed by the UK Government.
The Senedd’s Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport and International Relations Committee said that the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport within the UK Government should include a representative from the Welsh Government when discussing the future of public service broadcasting in Wales.
The report says that the rules that govern the media need to change to ensure audiences in Wales “can watch content that reflects and informs their lives”.
Particular regard should be given to the need for intervention to ensure programming in the Welsh language, and content reflecting Wales in both languages, is safeguarded, they said.
“The negotiations on the funding settlement for Wales are an essential step to guarantee PSBs can continue to serve Welsh audiences by covering our shared cultural events and providing trusted news,” the report says.
“The Committee is calling for a seat at the table for a Welsh representative in the negotiations on the next licence fee settlement from 2022-2027. The role of this representative should also be included as standard for the next round of negotiations.”
The report also adds: “The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Public Service Broadcasting Advisory Panel should include representatives from the devolved administrations in their discussions on policy and legislative solutions to the challenges facing PSBs in the digital age.
“Particular regard should be given to the need for intervention to ensure programming in the Welsh language, and content reflecting Wales in both languages, is safeguarded.”
Responding in 2018 to the news that S4C would be funded entirely from the license fee, the BBC said that it was opposed to the move.
A spokesperson said that “the channel and its audiences are best served by a funding model based on a plurality of funding sources”.
In its last financial year, 2020-21, S4C received £74.5m from the BBC licence fee and £21.85m from the UK Government.
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