Let the BBC focus on what it’s good at

Is it the role of the BBC to become embroiled in the debate about universal provision of services?

That appears to be the Westminster government’s aim over the plan to make the organisation directly responsible for free television licences for the over-75s from 2020 (your report, 7 July).

UK Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has decided, clearly, to use the pressure for change over the licence fee for a shrewd political purpose.

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It is to reduce the cost of a universal service to the Treasury – in this case about £650 million – and pass it on to either the consumer or the provider.

The BBC may not have the resources (or the powers) to means-test applicants for a free licence.

It will be left with a choice of either abandoning the policy, raising the age threshold, or reducing the concession to, say, half price.

It will take on a controversy that arguably should be taken on by government. It is a controversy that strikes at the heart of one of the most sensitive issues of our time – pensioner incomes and well-being.

Indeed, a similar argument could be put forward for transferring winter fuel payments back to the energy companies; or reducing the contribution of local and central government to the concessionary travel scheme both north and south of the 

Mr Whittingdale, unwittingly or not, has set a hare running that concerns large swathes of voters in the next decade.

I think few would doubt the need for a review of how the licence fee system operates in the face of changes in technology. But the Culture Secretary and the Treasury need to think about their responsibilities.

They should not abandon them to the broadcasting organisation which already faces enough challenges that are within its remit.

Bob Taylor

Shiel Court