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TV is going through an evolutionary leap and the BBC must adapt fast

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A consultation mounted by a public broadcaster is a Trojan horse. Those who send it cantering into battle know what’s inside it and the likely effect. In the case of the latest one on whether the BBC can continue to fund licence-fee exemption for over-75s from 2020, everyone knows that it cannot. So as the deliberation period ends this week, the real purpose has been to shape the terms of retreat. Neither, for all the solemn scolding of Gordon Brown, will the Government restore the old level of subsidy — and if it did it still would not be the solution.

It is doubtful that the former Labour Prime Minister and Chancellor would accede to the demand if he were in power now, because the terms of debate about how to sustain a public service broadcaster have changed, as have the arguments about demographic fairness well beyond the BBC. Decades of transfers to the elderly have left the young at the raw end of what wonks call “inter-generational accounting” when it comes to largesse from the state.

Hard maths will determine where this case ends up because the value of the concession has risen so starkly since the Labour government in 2001 introduced it and will continue to do so as the population ages. The external economic study commissioned by the BBC shows that if it were to be continued after 2020, the number of those exempt from the licence fee would cost the BBC £745 million, or 18 per cent of its current expenditure — and more than the whole amount spent on all radio output in 2017-18.

“By 2029-30, we estimate........

© Evening Standard