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UK culture secretary Nadine Dorries reveals plan to scrap BBC licence fee

The BBC licence fee funds numerous hit dramas including Line of Duty

The future of the BBC has been thrown into turmoil after culture secretary Nadine Dorries announced plans to end the licence fee, which recently brought the UK pubcaster £3.52bn (US$4.8bn) in a year.

The licence fee, which is currently protected by a Royal Charter, would be scrapped once the legislation expires on December 31, 2027, according to Dorries, who is a former I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here contestant.

From 2028, providing the Conservative government is still in power and the decision to axe the fee is not reversed, the public broadcaster would need an alternative funding model. This could include an opt-in subscription, like Netflix or Amazon.

Dorries said: “This licence fee announcement will be the last. The days of the elderly being threatened with prison sentences and bailiffs knocking on doors are over. Time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content.”

Licences, which are required for all households that own a TV set, had been free for the over-75s until the Conservative government passed the £650m cost on to the BBC in 2016. The pubcaster subsequently scrapped the free licences on cost grounds.

In a further blow to the BBC, the licence fee will now be frozen at its current rate of £159 per household for the next two years. This means the fee will not rise in line with inflation, which grew by 5.1% in the 12 months to November 2021, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics.

Nadine Dorries (photo: Chris McAndrew via CC)

If the licence fee is scrapped, the BBC will lose billions. According to government figures, it provided £3.52bn in 2019/20, amounting to 71% of the BBC’s funding.

This means the pubcaster would struggle to find the vast sums needed for programming at a time when audiences demand high-quality content and its competitors have deep pockets. For instance, Amazon is spending US$465m on its adaptation of The Lord of the Rings alone.

In addition to the BBC, the production sector also stands to suffer, with fewer commissions and smaller production budgets likely if the licence fee is axed.

Insiders have clammed the moves is an attempt to silence the BBC, which is deemed to have a left-wing bias by some members of the Conservative Party. “It’s over for the BBC as they know it,” Dorries said to The Daily Mail.

Critics have also suggested it is a ploy to distract from the latest scandal surrounding prime minister Boris Johnson, after he admitted attending an office “cheese and wine” party in 2020 when the country was under lockdown.

The proposals have prompted outrage among entertainment industry figures, including actor Hugh Grant who said the BBC was “something the whole world admires with envy.”

“It is entirely appropriate that the insecure, spittle-flecked nut jobs of this government want to destroy it,” The Undoing star said on Twitter.

Scottish comedian, producer and writer Armando Iannucci, known for BBC shows The Thick of It and I’m Alan Partridge, also hit out at Dorries’ announcement.

“First you come for @channel4 because you don’t like its reporting of events. Now you come for the BBC because you don’t like its reporting of events. Have you ever considered whether it’s the events themselves that are the problem?” he said on Twitter.

Defenders of the licence fee, such as BBC chairman Richard Sharp, have pointed out that it offers good value for money.

Speaking at a Royal Television Society event in September, he said: “It’s 43p per day, and that includes television, radio, iPlayer, kids’ content, among others, and that’s per household, which is fantastic value. If you look at the price of The Guardian, which is very, very good, it’s four times more expensive per day.”

At the same conference, Sharp claimed the licence fee contributes to fighting “media poverty” because it provides educational and informative content at a lower price point than its competitors.

Dorries and the Conservatives have been accused of targeting the BBC, and commercially funded UK pubcaster Channel 4, in revenge for what they perceive as unfair news coverage of the government.

Dorries has only been culture secretary since September but has already raised eyebrows with her approach to the brief.

When appearing before a parliamentary select committee at the end of 2021 she appeared to be labouring under the misapprehension that Channel 4 receives public money, rather than funding itself through commercial revenues.

“I would argue that to say that just because Channel 4 has been established as a public service broadcaster and just because it’s in receipt of public money, we should never, kind of, audit the future of Channel 4 and evaluate what Channel 4 looks like in the future and whether it’s a viable and sustainable model. It’s quite right the government should do that,” she said.

When it was pointed out to Dorries by culture select committee member Damien Green that Channel 4 is not in receipt of public money, she added: “And… so, although it’s… yeah… and that.”


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