UK Cabinet Minister calls for end to BBC licensing fees

Over the weekend, a British government minister attempted to deliver a deathblow to the BBC’s main source of funding, a license fee charged every year to every household with a television.

Nadine Dorries, who oversees the BBC at the cabinet, said on Twitter that an upcoming license fee announcement “will be the last”. Her too linked to an article it says she would freeze fees for the next two years – a move that will require substantial budget cuts to the public broadcaster due to inflation.

The BBC and the government have been negotiating since late 2020 over how much TV owners will have to pay over the next five years.

Three-quarters of the BBC’s revenue, around £3.75 billion ($5.1 billion), comes from licensing fees, which currently stand at £159 (or $217) per household. The license fee was introduced in 1923 to pay for radio. Today it funds eight national television channels, 10 radio stations, local stations (including Welsh and Gaelic language services), educational content and on-demand services. Fourteen percent of licensing fees fund non-BBC television.

Ms Dorries, who is Culture Secretary, and her Tory colleagues have long argued that the BBC needs a major overhaul of the way it funds it. They also said he was too left-wing and too London-centric.

“The days of old people being threatened with jail time and bailiffs knocking on doors are over,” Ms Dorries said in the tweet on Sunday. “Now is the time to discuss and debate new ways to fund, support and sell great UK content.”

Funding for the BBC through the license fee is guaranteed until the end of 2027, after which the BBC’s Royal Charter expires and its mission, public purpose and method of funding must be renewed. New mandates will be decided with the government of the day. But before that, there will be another general election, which will actually determine the fate of the royalty.

The Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has not made a formal announcement regarding BBC funding until 2027. But Ms Dorries shared an article from the Daily Mail, which said the fee would be frozen for the next two years and could face increases below inflation for the next three years. Over the past five years, fees have increased each year in line with inflation.

In Britain, inflation is at its highest level in a decade and freezing the license fee would force the broadcaster to make even more cuts.

Since 2016, the broadcaster has embarked on a massive cost-cutting plan, trying to save £800m a year. This exercise, he expects the savings rise above £950million. Last year it cut 1,200 jobs. The changes came as part of an overhaul of the BBC’s management. Since the end of 2020, a new general manager and president have been installed. Deborah Turness, who was president of NBC News, will be the BBC’s next news director.

Following complaints about bias in its media coverage, the broadcaster last year announced a plan to spend a further £700m outside the capital by 2027 and relocate 400 jobs.

The broadcaster faces increasing pressure and not just from the government. The BBC is trying to reach more diverse and younger audiences while cutting costs, as big-budget streaming companies such as Netflix and Spotify are boosting their presence in Britain.

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