Influential committee of MPs calls for abolition of the BBC as we know it
The Culture Select Committee recommends seismic changes in its "Future of the BBC" report, saying the licence fee has no long-term future, the BBC Trust should be abolished and the Corporation's cash dispersed to its competitors
An influential committee of MPs has called for the abolition of the BBC as we know it with a series of seismic recommendations including the dispersal of licence fee income and the abolition of the BBC Trust.
In addition the culture, media and sport select committee’s report, The Future of the BBC, says that it sees no long-term future for the licence fee.
In recommendations which will send shock waves across the Corporation, the report says that the BBC as we know it must be done away with.
After hearing weeks of evidence from major broadcasters and experts, the report concluded that instead of being charged the licence fee, all households could in future be charged a general broadcasting levy while “a degree of subscription for BBC services could be a possibility in the future.” This would mean that viewers would pay only for the BBC services they want.
The MPs added that criminal penalties and enforcement for non-payment of the licence fee was “anachronistic and out of proportion with responses to non-payment for other services”.
The report also recommended so-called top slicing in which a proportion of BBC income is made available to the BBC’s commercial competitors and demanded that the BBC should shrink in the long term.
The MPs said that the Corporation has tried for too long to provide “something for everyone”, adding: “It should reduce provision in areas where others are better placed to deliver excellence and better value for money, and make bigger, braver decisions on its strategy.”
The report also called for the abolition of the BBC's regulator, the BBC Trust, with the establishment of a new independent Public Service Broadcasting Commission with power to withhold money from the BBC and redistribute it elsewhere. The Trust is currently deciding the future of BBC3.
The government has three months to respond to the report's recommendations with a DCMS spokesman promising that the report will feed into the BBC’s current negotiations for a new Royal Charter which expires at the end of 2016.
Chair of the committee John Whittingdale MP (pictured) said of the report: “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.
“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. In the short term, there appears to be no realistic alternative to the licence fee, but that model is becoming harder and harder to justify and sustain.
“The BBC Trust has failed to meet expectations and should be abolished. It remains far too close to the BBC and blurs accountability of the BBC rather than it being a sharp and effective overseer of the BBC’s performance as a public service institution.”
The report was slammed by media expert Professor Steve Barnett who gave evidence to the committee.
He said it was a “deeply disappointing and fundamentally flawed report whose core recommendations, if implemented, would do profound damage to the long-term sustainability of the BBC”.
Barnett added: “The ultimate aim of this report appears to be a smaller, poorer, less publicly attuned BBC which will simply be filling in the spaces left by commercial competitors, rather than a thriving and dynamic institution which serves its audiences and operates in the public interest. It seems to be aimed more at appeasing the BBC’s competitors than promoting the interests of consumers and citizens.”
A spokesperson for the BBC Trust said: “This report highlights a number of issues and challenges that the Trust recognises and that we are seeking to address, and we agree that there must be robust internal governance and independent regulatory oversight of the BBC.
“Charter Review will be when this and other issues are debated thoroughly, but we welcome this thoughtful and considered early contribution. In the meantime the Trust will continue to argue for a BBC that delivers accurate, independent and high quality content that provides something for everyone, underpinned by a universal funding model.”