Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan praised the BBC as a “fantastic institution” but said it is “impossible” for the licence fee to continue in its current form. She told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee on Tuesday that a reform would be necessary to be sustainable. So should the licence fee be scrapped? Vote in our poll.
The BBC has received funding through a licence fee since 1923, and all households that watch or stream broadcast live programming content are required to pay the annual £159 TV licence fee. Some groups are eligible for an exemption including those over 75 on Pension Credit.
More than a quarter of a million more Britons cancelled their licence fee last year, compared to the usual level. In addition, Parliamentary figures show the income the BBC received from the licence fee is 30 percent lower in real terms than it was 10 years ago.
Ms Donelan described licence fee payers as “subscribers” and explained: “It is undeniable that the licence fee is not a long-term, sustainable model in its own right and we know that because obviously subscription figures are going down.
“There was a blip because of the change around over-75s but it isn’t a long-term sustainable model. So, if we want to make the BBC sustainable we need to be honest about that and work together to make sure we safeguard it into the future.”
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She added: “I think the BBC is a fantastic institution, one that we should seek to work together to protect. It’s part of our cultural fabric and society and we saw first-hand when our late majesty the Queen passed, just how much people relied on the BBC to allow them to mourn and come together.
“I don’t think we would have got that quality of footage had it not been for the BBC and the national broadcaster that we have.”
Former Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries announced earlier this year that the licence fee would be frozen at £159 for the next two years until April 2024 ,before rising in line with inflation for the following four years. She said she wanted to fund a new funding model to replace the “completely outdated” licence fee.
During her address, Ms Donelan echoed this and said that reform would be necessary when the current funding arrangement ends on 31 December 2027. She said an alternative would have to be found by 2028 as “the answer cannot simply be ‘continue with the licence fee’ if we want to protect the BBC.”
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She explained that the media landscape had “changed dramatically” in the last few decades and that the BBC should remain at the forefront of this offering.
Ms Donelan said that the licence fee review has not been commissioned yet but will be underpinned by “evidence-based” research.
BBC chairman Richard Sharp told a House of Lords committee in May: “The board hasn’t ruled out anything. We are taking a blank sheet of paper. We’ve been charged with the fact that the BBC faces an existential question and the board has to take that very seriously, and to look at all options without preconceptions.”
So what do YOU think? Should ‘unsustainable’ TV licence fee be scrapped? Vote in our poll and join the debate in the comment section below.