Challenging assumptions 2

In my previous post I mentioned 3 assumptions that the BBC was encouraging us to accept. The second of them was the idea that in order to maintain the existing benefits the BBC’s contribution to the pension fund would have to rise from today’s 3.5% of the licence fee to 10%. And the the third was that the licence fee payer wouldn’t accept this.

I’ve yet to see the projections for the 10% figure, and it strikes me as a very conveniently rounded figure. I’m going to put a question in and I’ll report back on the response. But taking the 10% figure at face value for a moment there are several points to make. First, there was a long pensions holiday in the 1990’s when the fund was in surplus. Even accepting the BBC’s point that the fund was running at the maximum surplus allowed by legislation, it is still perfectly reasonable to ask for at least some of that money the BBC was able to keep during the holiday to now be put back into the scheme. Second, what would the effect on that 10% figure be if a more mixed strategy was followed? For example, capping benefits at £40K a year, increased contributions from members, and an increased contribution from the BBC?

(Update 12th July: The 10% figure hasn’t lasted long. In his reply to my post on his blog, Pat Younge says that the BBC would have to pay 6.5% of the licence fee to maintain existing benefits.)

The final assumption is that the licence fee payer won’t accept 10% of the licence fee being spent on pensions. It’s certainly true that the majority of the press will not like it – but they resent any money being spent on public sector workers. But the public? The assumption here is that envy conquers solidarity. Not proven. We still don’t know how the civil service unions will respond to reductions in their pensions. There could well be a wave of resistance to the unilateral rewriting of pensions benefits and therefore some sympathy for our predicament. No attempt has yet been made to explain why higher licence fee contributions to the pension fund might be justified. It’s possible to envisage a scenario where a combination of capped benefits, increased member contributions and a BBC contribution of say 5% of the licence fee is justifiable in the court of public opinion. Much is made by the BBC about putting the licence fee payer first, but actually there is a balance to be struck between the interests of the licence fee payer and the BBC’s workforce. There is no shame in vigorously asserting our own rights, whilst remaining mindful of the wider context in which we operate.

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