Cabinet backs campaign to save BBC Singers

·3 min read
The BBC has announced it is to axe the Singers, pictured at the Proms in 2021 - Chris Christodoulou/BBC
The BBC has announced it is to axe the Singers, pictured at the Proms in 2021 - Chris Christodoulou/BBC

The campaign to save the BBC Singers has been backed at Rishi Sunak’s Cabinet, the Telegraph can reveal.

Senior ministers have raised concerns at the highest level about the broadcaster’s decision to axe the choir after 99 years, which it has blamed on budget cuts.

Its announcement has sparked a backlash, with 140,000 people signing a petition urging the corporation to reverse its decision.

Oliver Dowden, a former culture secretary, backed the campaign at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning, according to sources.

The Cabinet Office minister is said to have argued that the BBC should rethink its decision given how special the choir is to the public.

Other senior ministers around the table also expressed their support for the campaign to save the Singers, The Telegraph understands.

BBC argument 'not convincing'

Some have been left unconvinced by the BBC’s argument that it had to axe the group because of budget cuts.

A government source said: “There are always choices to be made about what things to support and the Singers is not in the grand scheme of things a vast amount of money.

“But [it] is a really special part of what the BBC does and I think everyone would like to see them performing at the Proms.”

The annual cost of the 20-strong in-house choir is said to be less than the salary of Gary Lineker, the contentious host of Match of the Day.

It is set to give its last performance in July, meaning it will not get to bow out at the world-famous Proms classical music festival, which ends in September.

While the BBC has not provided a figure itself, experts have calculated that the decision will save the corporation less than £1.5 million.

Labour and Tory MPs have called for a debate in the Commons over the broadcaster’s decision and are urging the Government to intervene.

Decision is of concern to many

Penny Mordaunt, the Commons leader, acknowledged that the issue is “of concern to many Members, as well as many people outside the House”.

But she said that the decision was “obviously independent from Government”.

Julia Lopez, a culture minister, added that the move to axe the choir was “causing a lot of alarm and concern” and the BBC has “duties to deliver cultural good”.

The move to scrap the choir also sparked condemnation from across the arts world.

Julian Lloyd Webber, a celebrated cellist, told the Radio Times that the “lamentable” decision calls into question the future of the licence fee.

“What has happened to our nation’s beloved BBC - the organisation that has been responsible for some of the greatest classical music broadcasts in history?” he said.

“The dereliction of its core principles has happened stealthily, over many years and with a lack of transparency that has eroded trust both inside and outside the organisation.

“Quite rightly, profound questions are now being asked as to what, if anything, the BBC still stands for.

“Has it given up any pretence of public service broadcasting? And, if so, why does it continue to receive our licence fees?”

Result of two-year freeze

The BBC has said that it needs to find £400 million in savings by 2027 because of the two-year freeze in the licence fee imposed by the Government.

It has also announced 20 per cent cuts to its musical ensembles in England, including its Symphony, Concert and Philharmonic orchestras.

The broadcaster spent £25 million on performing groups in the last financial year, according to its most recent annual accounts.

It has described the shake-up of classical music as a “bold” and “ambitious” strategy with freelance musicians forming “agile ensembles that can work creatively”.

The new measures will "ensure every pound of licence fee funding works harder for the sector and for our audiences now, and in the future”, it added.