BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN
Since 1973 there have been eleven referenda held in the UK, the majority of them have been related to the issue of devolution. The first UK-wide referendum was held in 1975 on the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the European Community. The latest referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union took place on the 23rd June 2016, when the UK voted to leave the EU.
Such polls have their fans and carpers. Nonetheless, it is time for a referendum on the BBC Licence Fee.
I’ll get my personal opinion on the licence fee out of the way early: you need a licence for a car as it is a heavy, moving vehicle that could cause damage, you need a licence to own a gun for reasons that are self-evident, to fly a plane etc. You should not need a licence to watch TV in your own home and risk jail for not paying. All areas of the BBC including television channels, websites and radio channels could have adverts paid for by private companies. The amount of income brought in by advertising would be sufficient to cover all the running costs of the successful emissions the BBC chooses to emit, thus mirroring BBC emissions with its actual market rather than a fictitious market caused by interventionist subsidy. The word British in the British Broadcasting Corporation name is – on recent BBC performance – removable. The national glue – the Today Programme, security service use of aspects of the BBC, a basic news programme, the World Service and other core programming – could be paid centrally out of Government revenues, kept strictly in check and likely retain the word British as long as they kept to strict guidelines of service. A licence fee should never be used to pay for stars’ salaries or vanity projects like the BBC News Channel – that is nothing short of theft.
As of March 2017, there were 25,826,118 TV licences in force in the UK. Disturbingly, at the end of March 2017, there were approximately 4.39 million free over 75 TV Licences in force at a cost of approximately £630.4 million to the Department for Work and Pensions. Is the BBC fit for work? Isn’t it time the public servants of the DWP looked at how they spend our taxes?
Of course, £630.4 million dwarfs the cost of the EU Referendum, which cost £142.4 million, according to cabinet office minister John Penrose. This £142.4 million went towards running polling stations, counting votes, organising postal voting and providing polling cards. The DWP might see a £142.4 million expense as an efficient way of saving £630.4 million a year ongoing – a figure that will increase as the UK population greys.
A BBC Referendum may be more complex. Several questions may be requiring an answer related to future TV provision, alongside the key question how much of a BBC Licence fee are you willing to pay? Nonetheless, there is no reason why such questions cannot be included in one poll.
Let me predict the future…
An increasing number of TV Licence holders will cancel their licence fee direct debits as, amidst further sex scandals, the BBC increasingly shows bias, demonstrates non-competitiveness and too often fails to declare interests. Bias? Just hear the BBCQT audience or follow Guido. Non-Competitiveness? Look up the BBC Jam £150M fiasco. Failure to Declare Interest? Just look at the career of Alan Yentob. (In June 2013, it was reported that the BBC had spent a total of £28 million to include ‘silencing clauses’ in staff contracts, effective during, and following the end of, contract periods.)
The BBC will realise the game is up and arrange to cut the licence fee.
Meanwhile private money will fund a BBC Licence Fee Referendum. (Fresh from the $52B sale of Fox, perhaps Rupert could leave a superior legacy to Sun and Times readers, as well as paying for a plebiscite in Ireland for long-suffering RTE funders). The results of this referendum will be shocking for the BBC and for Government and, although the result cannot be binding, the Government will be forced to act and initiate a phasing out of the licence fee.
A series of scandals will follow as BBC employees, who have never had a proper job in their lives, attempt to form their own production and other associated firms, using old BBC infrastructure. Most will go bust.
The BBC that we watch and listen to in 2030 will be a joy to behold. Reflective of the nation. Balanced and fair. Innovative. Successful.
Licence Fee Payers – the power rests with You.