It is expected that the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, will give a clear indication today that the UK TV licence fee is to fall from its current yearly level of Â£145.50.
Interviewed in the Telegraph Mr Hunt said that the BBC needed to realise that the coalition’s silence on the fee since the election did not mean that they considered it set at the right level. He also said that the BBC needed to change “huge numbers” of things it does and that he sees viewers paying less for their TV licence after the once in five year talks with the BBC next year.
Mr Hunt made it plain that the BBC needed to fall into step with the cuts other departments were facing. “All the concerns I had in opposition about executive salaries and use of licence fee funds for things many people thought were extraordinary or outrageous – that (next year) will be moment when I express them.” he said. Mr Hunt also said that he planned to send in the National Audit Office (NAO) to check over the accounts.
The Telegraph report also highlights recent actions by the BBC that appear to be a pre-emptive strike by them to head off criticism over the level of the licence fee and how it is used. It said it would close the final salary pension scheme to new joiners as well as cutting top level salaries by 25%.
Many will be pleased at this reduction, especially those that believe the way the BBC is funded is an anachronism. There are those that want the BBC funded fully from advertising saying there is no longer a the need for a national broadcaster.
On the other side of the fence is the argument that the BBC (radio and TV) provides a bastion of culture in a sea of mediocrity and that it is money well spent.
But while that argument goes on private TV and radio is feeling the pinch. This puts the BBC in a very enviable and disproportionately powerful position. By clipping their wings the playing field is levelled without having to divert public funds into private broadcasting. The government just needs to ensure the cuts are in line with other departments and that the BBC sticks to some core work like news etc.
Yes there may be less quality stuff to watch, but maybe people will do what they did in previous recessions and entertain themselves instead of relying on someone else to do it. Maybe a few of the less worthy channels of the thousands available will fall by the wayside. Now that would be a cultural leap forward.