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Replace licence fee with new tax, inquiry tells BBC

The licence fee is "far from ideal", the new report warns. Photo: BrunoRosa/Shutterstock

A new report has urged the BBC to abolish the TV licence fee “as soon as is practically possible” and replace it with a a “more progressive” funding method.

The Future for Public Service Television Inquiry [1]suggested three alternatives: a tiered household fee, an add-on to council tax, or a new tax with “appropriate parliamentary safeguards”.

Campaigners across the industry have previously spoken out in defence of the licence fee, including actor Bertie Carvel, who said it protected the UK from “miles and miles of trash” on TV [2].

The inquiry, chaired by film producer and former Channel 4 deputy chairman David Puttnam, suggested the government should stop making decisions about the BBC’s funding – and instead hand over responsibility to an independent advisory body.

It also called for the BBC to be made a statutory body – ending the Royal Charter or “at the very least” underpinning it in law – and said appointments to the Corporation’s new board should be “entirely independent” from government.

Explaining its findings, the report claimed the licence fee was “vulnerable in the face of changes in technology and consumption”.

It continued: “It is in any case far from an ideal system – it has failed to guarantee real independence and is charged at a flat rate.

“The BBC’s independence has also been compromised by the insecurity of its establishment by a royal charter and the process behind the appointments to its governing body.”

Other changes recommended include a new pot of money for public service content, funded by a levy on big digital companies and internet service providers.

The inquiry was strongly opposed to any privatisation of Channel 4, and called on the government to clarify its intentions as soon as possible.

It also echoed previous calls by Lenny Henry to ring-fence money specifically for programmes made by black, Asian and ethnic minority teams [3].

Responding to the inquiry, a BBC spokeswoman said: “An institution that matters to the public like the BBC is always going to be subject to debate and ideas, but as people know, we now have a white paper and charter that secures the BBC’s future for the next eleven years.”