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Council / SIC to write to government over TV licence plans

Lerwick Town Hall.

SHETLAND Islands Council is set to write to the UK government to ask it to intervene in the BBC’s plans to make most over-75s to pay for a TV licence.

A motion proposed by Shetland south member Allison Duncan at Wednesday’s meeting of the full council said the move was the “latest turn of the austerity screw”.

Councillor Allison Duncan. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

His motion for the council to write to the government was co-signed by North Isles member Ryan Thomson, with the call receiving unanimous support in the chamber.

Under the proposals people receiving pension credit will still get a free TV licence from June 2020, but Duncan said uptake of this in Shetland has historically been low.

He added that some elderly members of the Shetland population rely on TV to keep in contact with the “wider world”.

The BBC said in June that it believes the plans represent the “fairest option to help the poorest pensioners”.

Duncan’s motion said: “The news that the BBC has confirmed plans to require most over-75s to pay the TV licence has been greeted with dismay and anger by many of the 2,000 people in Shetland affected by this imposition.

“Three million UK pensioners would lose their free TV licence as a result of this decision. The BBC will continue to provide licences to over-75s who can provide evidence that they claim pension credit.

“In Shetland were are there is traditionally a low take-up rate of these benefits and many in our rising elderly population are likely to be affected by this BBC pronouncement.

“Many Shetland pensioners have contacted their councillors and MP seeking SIC support to bring their concerns to the attention of the government. Few have access to the internet, online social media or even daily newspapers, and rely on TV to maintain contact with the wider world.

“SIC is well-placed to speak on behalf of those in our community affected by this move. Free TV licences started as a government initiative and remains a manifesto commitment; it surely must be to government that we turn to to reverse this latest turn of the austerity screw.

“I request that the SIC writes to the UK Government to intervene with the BBC in this matter as a matter of urgency.”

The BBC’s plans have been widely criticised, with Age UK for instance amassing nearly 600,000 signatures for a petition which demands that the government “takes back responsibility for funding free TV licences for everyone over 75”.

The BBC board, which had responsibility over the decision, said it consulted on the move and had received over 190,000 responses.

It said while there was support shown for keeping TV licences free for all over-75s, there was also “strong support for reform”.

The board added in a statement that the proposed solution is the “fairest option for all licence fee payers, as this means everyone will continue to receive the best programmes and services that the BBC can provide”.

“The BBC will not be making judgements about poverty as that measure is set and controlled by government,” it said.

Thomson said at Wednesday’s meeting that blame should be put on the Conservative government, not the BBC, saying free licences was a manifesto commitment.

“This is an absolutely horrendous decision by the Tory government,” he said.

Councillor Ian Scott, meanwhile, said said austerity was the result of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition.

“All we are trying to do is to solve a problem that we created ourselves,” he said, referring to voters of the two parties.