The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

YAC Fund Decision – Political Background

 

CMF Director Greg Childs outlines the political background to the Young Audiences Content Fund and initial lobbying by the campaign coalition.


Despite the "hidden" announcement about the closure of  the Young Audiences Content Fund in January, political activity has been ramping up.

The campaign group has communicated its concerns to The Secretary of State and the DCMS Minister for Media Julia Lopez. Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell has been alerted, as have  members of the DCMS Parliamentary Select Committee. The 75 MPs and peers in the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children's Media and the Arts  have received a full briefing. Baroness Benjamin, co-chair of the APPG will be meeting the Secretary of State in early March armed with letters of support for the Fund from broadcasters, producers and parents.

However, the politics behind the decision to cancel the Fund go beyond considerations of its effectiveness or value.

The Fund was created by a previous Conservative government, using revenue raised by the television licence fee, but predicated to broadband roll-out. On completion of that project the BBC returned a £60m underspend to the DCMS, which was not re-allocated to the BBC in the next licence fee settlement. This became the financial basis for the three-year pilot of "Contestable Funding".

The BBC have been vocal in their opposition to "Contestable Funding" from the outset, and indeed the Children's Media Foundation, while supporting the YAC Fund, has also opposed top-slicing the licence fee as "robbing Peter to pay Paul" - spreading the existing public service funding more thinly rather than enhancing it with additional funds.

Despite BBC opposition, the concept of the Fund was still strongly supported by the DCMS only six months ago. In July 2021 the previous Secretary of State, Oliver Dowden, wrote to the BBC confirming the continuation of Contestable Funding taken from the Licence Fee for the next 6 years. His analysis: "The existing pilot schemes are functioning effectively and the continuation of contestable funding in this way will see a very small amount of Licence Fee income used to enhance the provision of public service broadcasting and encourage innovation, providing additional value to the public."

But by the start of 2022, everything had changed. At some point in the licence fee negotiations, Contestable Funding was set aside.  A small but significant paragraph in the Secretary of State's letter outlining the final decisions on the licence fee reveals: "I have decided not to top-slice the Licence Fee for the purpose of Contestable Funding. Over the course of the settlement period, this will return close to £100m back to general Licence Fee income."

There is no evidence that the BBC plans to spend that windfall exclusively on content for children and young people. So essentially a significant portion of that sum has been lost for this special audience.

Once that decision was taken the Fund was doomed, because the DCMS cannot conceive of any way to finance Contestable Funding other than by top-slicing the television licence fee. This is nonsense, as there are certainly other sources of funding. CMF advocates a range of alternatives such as levying the streamers, additional Lottery funding for the BFI and direct government grants - all are viable.

One final technicality... The government made clear from the outset that the Fund would not be closed until a full evaluation was carried out.  This commitment is in the original scoping document for the Fund: "Following the detailed evaluation of the scheme, a decision will be taken on whether to close, maintain or expand the scheme into other areas of public service content." This time-frame has been reiterated by the Secretary of State subsequently.  But the final evaluation has not even begun.  Has the government "jumped the gun" on this decision in their haste to abandon Contestable Funding?

Our hope as a campaign coalition is that when it becomes clear to the Secretary of State that there is strong opposition to the demise of the Fund, not only from advocacy bodies like ourselves and from the children's media industry (including broadcasters), but also from parents and young people themselves - then the DCMS will revise this shortsighted decision.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)