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BBC licence fee: Furious MPs demand Lineker’s salary cut before over 75s lose free licence

And they instead suggested the BBC economise in other areas – for example the salaries of top earners such as Gary Lineker and Chris Evans. The broadcaster had put plans to begin means-testing on ice during the coronavirus pandemic – but earlier this month confirmed the new scheme would be introduced on August 1, triggering a barrage of criticism from among others, Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan.

Now 66 Tories, including former leader Iain Duncan Smith and Mark Francois, chairman of the eurosceptic European Research Group, have written to BBC director general, Lord Hall of Birkenhead, setting out their concerns.

The letter, organised by the Blue Collar Conservatism group which includes MPs representing former Labour strongholds, states: “When millions of elderly Britons have been asked to stay at home during the global COVID-19 crisis, the timing of this announcement could not have been worse.

“Frankly, it is a kick in the teeth for millions of over-75s who have had a torrid time in lockdown.”

Gary Lineker presents Match of the Day (Image: GETTY)

Pointing to the BBC’s annual income of £5billion, the signatories ask why the new measures were necessary.

They added: “We question the need for the BBC to allocate the enormous sum of £100 million on diversity, which with strong management could be achieved for minimal cost.”

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In reference to the BBC’s top stars, with Match of the Day host Lineker earning £1.75million a year and Chris Evans earning £1.25million a year, the letter adds: “Reducing the excessive salaries of your highest-paid stars and executives would also provide ample financial respite.

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The MPs have written to Lord Hall of Birkenhead (Image: PA)

“The fact that you have prioritised pensioners to take the brunt of your cost-savings shows how detached you have become from your viewers.

“Now is not the time to scrap free TV licences for over-75s.”

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The letter, which is also signed by former Work and Pensions Minister and MP for Tatton Esther McVey and Harlow MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons education committee, highlights the bitter dispute between the Government and the BBC, with Downing Street having described the new policy as the “wrong decision”.

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The Government is also considering whether to decriminalise non-payment of the fee, currently set at £157.50 for a colour licence £53 for black and white one.

A spokesman said: “It was the Government who decided to stop funding free TV licences for the over 75s.

“The decision to start the new scheme in August has not been easy, but we could not continue delaying without profoundly impacting the programmes and services all audiences love.

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“Continuing with the Government scheme would have meant the closure of BBC Two, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, the BBC Scotland channel, Radio 5live and 5live Sports Extra, and a number of local radio stations.

“Around 1.5 million households could get free TV licences if someone is over 75 and receives Pension Credit, and 450,000 of them have already applied. And critically it is not the BBC making that judgement about poverty. It is the Government who sets and controls that measure.

Addressing the question of its highest-paid talent, the spokesman added: “We have said many times that if the BBC employed no presenters paid over £150k that would only save £10 million, which is no way near the £745 million and rising needed to fund free licences for all over 75s.

“Our £100 million diversity pledge is not new money; it is a prioritisation from our existing budget for new programmes. So this is about a choice on how we spend our money.

“Having more people from diverse backgrounds to truly reflect the public – including those from minorities or with disabilities or disadvantaged backgrounds – is a good thing the BBC wants to achieve.”

The BBC has warned the cost of offering free licences to all over-75s could hit £1bn annually as a result of the nation’s ageing population.

Only pensioners in receipt of Pension Credit benefit will be exempted.

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