Commons report calls for licence fee changes

Broadcasting House, BBC, media, Alex Veeneman, Kettle Mag
Written by Alex Veeneman

The House of Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Committee have called on changes to the governance and funding models of the BBC.

In a new report released today, the Committee says the BBC makes a valuable contribution to the lives of many in the UK, through its reach of 96 per cent of the population weekly as well as services to international audiences. Yet, the Committee says the corporation has questions to answer on the allocation of funding, as well as governance.

Licence fee review

The review comes ahead of the expiration of the BBC’s current charter at the end of 2016.

The Committee recommended that the licence fee in the short term be amended to incorporate services to catch up television services, and that in future a broadcasting levy, a model used in Germany, is the preferred alternative to a licence fee system. However, some had suggested the possibility of a subscription based model of funding.

In addition, criminalisation of not paying the licence was, according to the Committee, “anachronistic,” and any measures to decriminalise must include prevention of evasion.

Full and frank debate

The Committee said the BBC was for too long trying to provide something for everyone, and reduce areas where others are placed to provide and make bigger decisions on its strategy. The Committee also called on the corporation to have more partnerships in its content and strategy, have a non-Executive Chair on a new board, replacing the BBC Trust, and give the National Audit Office access to figures to ensure the corporation is spending is funding wisely.

In a statement, the Conservative MP John Whittingdale, who chairs the Committee, said the BBC had questions to answer on its actions in light of recent events.

“Over the last few years the BBC has suffered from a succession of disasters of its own making, yet it remains a widely admired and trusted institution, and fulfils many important functions both at home and abroad,” Whittingdale said. “However, when an organisation is in receipt of nearly £4 billion of public money, very big questions have to be asked about how that money is provided and spent, and how that organisation is governed and made accountable.”

Whittingdale also called for an independent review panel to be established to examine the 2017 Charter, saying that the importance of the BBC calls for a full and frank debate on its future.

Modernising the licence fee

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport did not respond to a telephone request seeking comment on the report.

Reached by email, a BBC spokesperson said the report confirmed the importance of the corporation’s work to the public.

“This report confirms the importance of the BBC in national life and recommends maintaining and modernising the licence fee, something we have said is necessary,” the spokesperson said. “We’re grateful to the committee for endorsing our record for efficiency and maintaining the quality of programmes and services, and note members overwhelmingly voted against moving to a subscription funding model.”

Culture Secretary Sajid Javid had previously said no action on the licence fee had been planned, and would be part of the discussions surrounding the Charter, due to take place after the General Election in May.

Labour Shadow Culture Secretary and Deputy Leader Harriet Harman however raised concerns previously with the future of the BBC under a Conservative government, in a 2014 speech in Salford.

What do you think? Should the licence fee continue to be maintained? What should the future of the BBC consist of? Have your say in the comments section below.