Entertainment & Arts

Culture minister Jeremy Hunt makes BBC strike plea

Jeremy Hunt
Image caption Jeremy Hunt also confirmed the DCMS would move to a cheaper site

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has asked the BBC and its staff to consider licence fee payers ahead of strike action over pensions next month.

"I hope that both sides in this dispute... will reflect on the impact on licence fee payers," Mr Hunt said.

He said he was most concerned about two strike dates set for 19 and 20 October, which coincide with the government's comprehensive spending review.

The National Union of Journalists said the BBC could still avoid the strikes.

Jeremy Dear, its general secretary, said: "We're not saying there can be no change [to the pension schemes]. But change must be fair.

"How can it be fair to ask workers to pay almost double to be worse off in retirement?"

Mr Hunt said next month's spending review was "a very, very important issue to all voters", adding: "I think people will want to know about it."

His comments came during his first appearance in front of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee.

The first set of BBC strike dates are set for 5 and 6 October, coinciding with the Conservative Party conference.

Conservative Party chairman, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, has written to the BBC's director general, Mark Thompson, to ask about arrangements for BBC coverage of the conference during the planned strike.

The BBC's main unions - the NUJ, Bectu and Unite - have voted for strike action in a dispute over proposed changes to the corporation's pension schemes.

Mr Hunt also told the committee he had no plans to abolish Arts Council England, having already axed the UK Film Council.

"I'm not abolishing the Arts Council but want it to make ambitious changes to reduce its administration costs," he said.

"Front-line arts organisations are vulnerable because if they have a sudden cut in their grant, they reduce artistic output and secure less ticket sales and donations.

"There is a risk of a cycle of decline, so we have to be very, very careful. We want to help people get through a very difficult patch," he added.

Mr Hunt also praised the BBC's "independence".

"I do support the licence fee agreement because it works, it (the BBC) is probably the most respected newsgathering organisation in the world," he told the committee.

"The independence of the BBC is something licence fee payers value, it delivers, so we do support that principle."

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