3 August 2020 – today’s press release

BBC licence fee should be set by independent body, Liberal Democrats plan

The Liberal Democrats are to debate plans at their Autumn conference to ensure the BBC licence fee level is set independently next year after government cuts forced the BBC to end free TV licences for most over-75s.

Liberal Democrat Culture spokesperson Daisy Cooper, who will move the motion at the Party’s first digital conference, warned the Government must never again be allowed to “force the BBC into a corner where it has to choose between cuts to programming or raising these fees on the most vulnerable.”

The Party, which led a cross party group of 106 parliamentarians calling for a review of the decision to cut hundreds of BBC staff working across regional programmes, will put forward plans to protect the long–term future of the BBC.

They will call on the Government to uphold its promise to retain the licence fee model until the end of the current Charter period in December 2027, and for a transparent and independent body to review the cost of the licence next year.

The Liberal Democrats also use the same policy motion to take a swipe at Boris Johnson ducking BBC scrutiny during last year’s General Election by calling on all senior politicians to make themselves available for scrutiny in televised interviews and debates.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Liberal Democrat Digital, Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson Daisy Cooper said:

Families around the UK have flocked to the BBC during the coronavirus pandemic as a source of trusted news, entertainment and education, demonstrating the true value of public service broadcasting at a time of national crisis.

As families face serious financial hardship and the prospect of local lockdowns, it is absurd that the BBC is left with no choice but to cut jobs and programmes that will reduce people’s ability to know what’s going on in their area.

Ending free TV licences for the over 75s, which could push some of the poorest pensioners into poverty, jars with common decency.

We must be clear: the responsibility of these cuts falls squarely at the feet of Conservative Ministers. With these plans, it is no wonder we can find neither hide nor hair of Boris Johnson when proper media scrutiny comes calling.

To save BBC programming we must never again allow Ministers to force the BBC into a corner where it has to choose between cuts to programming or raising these fees on the most vulnerable. That means ensuring the licence fee is set independently.

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34 Comments

  • The compulsory licence fee is no longer acceptable in this modern, digital world. I stopped using the BBC about two years ago but would risk getting a criminal record if I refused to pay. There is a growing movement to defund the Corporation so dissatisfied members of the public are unlikely accept the status quo.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Aug '20 - 2:35am

    A very conservative notion, expressed by a spokesperson who clearly cannot see that “the most vulnerable” are the poor, who cannot afford this, poll tax on viewing, the words, of Tony Benn, of all ages.

    The BBC should not have had the money cut, agreed, it should however, have, in a period of six years, the licence fee finished, and a new subsidised one channel BBc, that does do public service tv. It could have found this money now from cuts to top stars, their salaries, and by ceasing to try to compete with commercial channels to such a degree.

    Daisy Cooper is as out of touch on this as have been all “culture spokespeople”. A pity, as I like her. If she is a rising star, as is said, she might rise better if she listened to the liberal voice radical, not conservative, that does not think payment to Gary Lineker or Norton, or others staff, public service at all.

    PBS in the States might lack money. but it also lacks stars overpaid and does not force people into prison.

    The BBc could be great again if it now accepts it is a bloated over blown monolith.

  • What I don’t get is the logic that says providing free TV licenses to the over 75’s (even rich ones) is good and worthy but abolishing the license for everybody (including people on low incomes) is some kind of awful right wing Cummings-ish idea.

    Compelling people to pay for a state broadcaster has a Soviet feel to it.

    Our own news tends to have a dismissive tone towards other countries state broadcasters Eg “the state broadcaster of XYZLand reported that there were no tanks in the region “ as if to imply there were.

    I think it’s time the BBC became genuinely independent and largely self-funding eg through pay per view and non-commercial advertising.

    Then they might be able to compete with Murdoch and get the Premier League back.

  • I genuinely believe that the quality of entertainment from the BBC has deteriorated over the last three decades. During this time the budget has increased together with the money squandered and legions of managers employed.

    The Corporation flouts its charter obligations and is certainly not impartial. It frequently broadcasts on subjects where it has an agenda to promote and ignores swathes of news where the facts are inconvenient for its agenda.

    Some people apparently believe that the broadcaster is still wonderful. In that case, it should have no problem attracting subscriptions. Others, like me, will not be forced to pay for a deteriorating service which I do not wish to use.

  • It is possible that the quality of BBC programmes has deteriorated over the last three decades, as has the government funding of what was certainly a trusted jewel of public service broadcasting.

    However, Peter, you fail to give any evidence for the rest of your assertions. Evidence please….. can do better.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Aug '20 - 1:06pm

    David is correct. My criticism is not that of Peter. If he can support it he should.

    My feeling is twofold on the issue.

    One is that it is really unsustainable to have a multi channel organisation in a liberal economy, financed by a flat and with legal force , the way the fee is taken. It needs to be replaced by a smaller grant from DCMS

    Two is that the BBc is not a public broadcaster any more with that model. It has few of the old school, where are the great programmes that cannot be made without this funding? Of course with four billion forced from us , there are good programmes. But they could be made by channel four or a subscription broadcaster.

    I feel they need to split, into BBc public, BBc private. One funded to do what it ought. The other to do what it wants. No laws no inspection, freedom.

  • It is high time the Lib Dems renamed themselves to The Whigs.

    We need the traditional ideas of Whiggism back.

  • Phil Beesley 4th Aug '20 - 1:25pm

    Marco: “Compelling people to pay for a state broadcaster has a Soviet feel to it.

    Our own news tends to have a dismissive tone towards other countries state broadcasters Eg “the state broadcaster of XYZLand reported that there were no tanks in the region “ as if to imply there were.

    I think it’s time the BBC became genuinely independent and largely self-funding eg through pay per view and non-commercial advertising.”

    Somebody has to pay for the infrastructure providing radio masts for other free to air UK TV channels. Somebody has to pay for the World Service — words of imperial oppression or proclamations of liberation? Make up your own mind. I recall that HM Gov determined that World Service is paid for by the BBC. And, never, ever would HM Gov tell the BBC how to broadcast.

    Funnily enough, I have always thought that BBC broadcasters were respectful towards colleagues in countries with an oppressive regime. You’d have to be a piece of work to nail a state broadcaster or an independent — bad consequences.

    ‘non-commercial advertising’ — ???

  • Daniel Walker 4th Aug '20 - 1:42pm

    @Jim “It is high time the Lib Dems renamed themselves to The Whigs.”

    Even if that were a good idea, the name is in use by a current party.

  • @ Phil Beesley

    It might just be me but I always get the feeling that “state broadcaster” is inserted to undermine the credibility of what is being said.

    By non-commercial advertising I mean things like non-profit/charity and government advertising.

    As this might not provide enough revenue for public service and world service broadcasting I could accept a broadcasting tax of say 0.5% on income tax.

  • Phil Beesley 4th Aug '20 - 3:07pm

    Marco: “It might just be me but I always get the feeling that “state broadcaster” is inserted to undermine the credibility of what is being said.”

    It is just you. The BBC World Service broadcasts opinion from Britain. And the BBC from Britain isn’t just UK Gov.

    Marco: “By non-commercial advertising I mean things like non-profit/charity and government advertising.”

    Have you ever run a jumble sale? Or are you making stuff up on the fly?

    “As this might not provide enough revenue for public service and world service broadcasting I could accept a broadcasting tax of say 0.5% on income tax.”

    So called ‘BBC Tax’ is less per month than a subscription to a streaming provider. About a tenner. Your solution is to take away more money from poor people.

  • My reasons for not listening to BBC radio or watching BBC television do not matter. The point is that some people like the BBC and others do not, yet the fee has to be paid by everyone.

    Why do we have to buy our TV entertainment from the State? That is essentially what we have to do. If we do not wish to participate, then why are we branded as criminals?

    The article above appears to suggest that the Lib Dems wish to ensure that the current system cannot be changed. That does not sound very liberal to me.

  • Couldn’t watch BBC if I tried, my better half is binge watching an Australian show on Netlfix, Serously though that monthly subscription is easily the best investment at F5,99 per month, I have ever made. Have you watched “Nightingale”, wow. Once you have watched it you won’t forget it in a long while.

  • We get more value for money from Netflix.

  • Phil Beesley 4th Aug '20 - 4:13pm

    Peter: “My reasons for not listening to BBC radio or watching BBC television do not matter.”

    No, Peter, they matter. Tell us why! In detail!

    Peter: “Why do we have to buy our TV entertainment from the State?”

    We don’t. It’s ironic that UK TV tech provide a feed from RT, the Russian parody channel, to Uk TV sets. There is a technical requirement for ITN and Channel 4 to behave as responsible journalists too.

    Thank goodness that there are liberals around, and that the system works in a way that looks out for people who seek to defend liberalism and free speech.

    You know what, Peter, I don’t think you are a liberal.

  • Phil Beesley 4th Aug '20 - 5:07pm

    theakes: “We get more value for money from Netflix.”

    I get zero value from Netflix. The programmes which I enjoy are provided by UK and European producers. Mostly tax money.

  • The reach of the BBC is very high -well over 90%.

    On free to air TV, ITV is only crime dramas and soaps. The BBC has a far bigger range.

    The reason for the beeb is the same as that u am compelled to pay for the public library despite never borrowing a mills and boon. Or London drivers pay for roads in the Orkneys. They are all public goods in that your consumption doesn’t affect mine or very very marginally. Only 1 person can eat an apple, but 2 can watch a movie TV programme at the same time. library books can be borrowed by more than one person over a year. Ignoring congestion 2 cars can use the same road.

    Such items are often best paid for by public subscription.

    If we only have Netflix we will lose a massive slice of British culture. For me wonderful Radio 4 programmes especially comedies that I have just listened to. As they say worth the licence fee on their own. And sure I have to pay for radio 3 which I never listen to being a philistine. But no other payment method would actually fund it. And pick your BBC favourite. Those quirky kids programmes we are nostalgic for the wombles, clangers, Paddington Bear etc. I am glad that I was brought up on some good British BBC culture rather than just American cartoons.

    Long live the BBC paid for by the licence fee! I positively gladly pay for it. the PM’s senior advisor is though a different matter!

  • The independent impartial status of the BBC is a precious commodity.

    It is under threat from political manipulators such as Cummings/Johnson/Gove,
    commercial interests such as the Murdoch Empire and from multinational corporate interests. It is a beacon of our liberties and free speech. It should not be for sale, jeopardised or thrown away as a result of half baked nit picking – some of which has appeared in this thread.

    Clearly some posters have very little knowledge of this or when it was an issue in the past. An early example : in 1926 the Tory Chancellor (and former Liberal) Winston Churchill wanted to mobilise the BBC for propaganda purposes on the side of the Government during the General Strike. John Reith, the BBC Director-General resisted Churchill’s demands to establishe a tradition of BBC impartiality.

    I’m sure Eden would have loved to control the BBC during the Suez Crisis in 1956, and Blair the same over Iraq.

  • @Phil Beesley

    “Have you ever run a jumble sale? Or are you making stuff up on the fly?”

    Haha probably the latter to be be honest

    “Your solution is to take away more money from poor people.”

    I don’t think that’s correct as thanks to a certain progressive political party people don’t pay income tax until they earn at least £12k p.a

    “It is just you”

    Ok but when I hear something along the lines of “President Bashemov’s denials that troops were deployed were aired by the country’s state broadcaster” I assume that I am being invited to disbelieve the claims being made. Maybe I should not be assuming this.

  • Nigel Jones 4th Aug '20 - 8:39pm

    I agree with Michael 1. Many people over 75 can afford the fee and the only other way of funding the BBC would be through the tax system. There is some sense in that, because we need a service that provides a balance between popular programmes and those for minorities. I hate Radio and TV adverts, interrupting programmes and telling me frequently what I should buy or do; it is one of the sad elements of our capitalist economic world; so having all commercial broadcasting would be terrible.

  • @Michael1

    “The reason for the beeb is the same as that u am compelled to pay for the public library despite never borrowing a mills and boon”

    I don’t know about your local library but mine dont write to me telling me that my home is “under investigation” and that they will send round a debt collector cum part time nightclub bouncer if I dont cough up and might apply for a search warrant (might actually be a good way of recovering unreturned books).

    Perhaps its actually the method of funding the BBC rather than the principle that bothers me the most.

  • Martin Smith 4th Aug '20 - 10:52pm

    Nothing would please the right wing press more than the demise of the BBC as a tax-payer funded service. At a stroke we would lose possibly the last remaining globally respected British institution. People in oppressive dictatorships and citizens in war zones still seek out the objective and trusted voice of the BBC World Service. In 2019, more people around the world tuned into the BBC than ever before, reaching a new high of 426m a week, according to the Global Audience Measure (GAM). The BBC World Service in English, and 42 languages, account for 319m of that figure – with an increase of 41m. Without this, where will people go….Fox News, Times News, Daily Mail online, RT? The BBC is about the only ‘soft-power’ the UK has left. Given we now have few friends in the world, we need to be very careful before we sacrifice this projection of British culture and opinion.

    What would be left of local reporting if the Beeb was gone? With local papers in financial meltdown who is going to pick up on the local stories, hold councillors to account and shame incompetent local businesses?

    I’m not against the BBC having its budget reduced, but for £3 per week you get about 6 TV channels, umpteen radio channels and an impressively informative website. To argue that a subscription based service could carry on with even a fraction of this is absurd, in this age of so many people wanting something for nothing. To allow advertising then compromises the BBCs impartiality. He who pays the piper, calls the tune! Isn’t that what happens with Tory donors?

    There are some over 75s who can easily afford the TV licence (my mother for instance) so a means-test seems a fair approach); the Government has manoeuvred the BBC into a political trap on this issue and the blame for this sits solely with the Tories.

    I wasn’t a great fan of the BBC coverage of Brexit, to put it mildly, but they walk a daily tightrope in trying to be impartial; their coverage of Covid19 is far more hard-hitting (esp. Newsnight) but it is to be expected that I’m not going to like everything I see and hear. However that should not make me lose sight of the bigger perspective on this.

  • @ Martin Smith Great post, Martin. Good to hear the voice of sanity.

  • Phil Beesley 4th Aug '20 - 11:46pm

    Marco: “I don’t think that’s correct as thanks to a certain progressive political party people don’t pay income tax until they earn at least £12k p.a”

    Everyone pays a consumption tax like VAT. Poor people pay the same tax as the rich for chocolate biscuits.

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Aug '20 - 7:04am

    @David Raw
    “@ Martin Smith Great post, Martin. Good to hear the voice of sanity.”

    Seconded – from a household which includes 1 who got to 75 earlier this year and we have no problem with continuing to pay the licence fee.

    Public service broadcasting is a precious asset.

  • @ Nonconformistradical Yes, indeed, and what is often forgotten is that so called ‘independent broadcasting’ doesn’t come free.

    The total take in advertising revenue from TV comes to over £ 5 billion…… the equivalent of the Lib Dems (plan for all seasons) of a penny on income tax…. paid in the additional cost of goods (including food) which impinges more on those of limited means than the wealthy.

    The old historic Liberal cry of ‘No taxes on food’ clearly applies in a more circuitous way. I do wish such as Mr Cherin would wake up to this. In plain Yorkshire terms : “You get nowt for nowt”.

    You’re still paying for it …… even for the much touted senior funeral plans for seniors with or without a Parker pen…… and why do they always seem so blinking cheerful when they get one ?

  • Barry Lofty 5th Aug '20 - 12:10pm

    Martin Smith: say no more, I quite agree with you although I too do not enjoy all the BBC output and they have tended to dumb down some programmes, in my opinion, but I certainly would not want to lose it.

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Aug '20 - 12:13pm

    @David Raw
    “the much touted senior funeral plans for seniors with or without a Parker pen”

    And they always seem to contain the word ‘guaranteed’… Makes me extremely wary.

  • I do feel that the BBC licence fee is unjustifiably high these days, especially for ‘presenters’ who are supposedly worth vast amounts, otherwise they would leave for other providers… why not let them? (My particular bugbear being Gary Lineker). And, while others may rave about the Attenborough nature programs I find them unwatchable. The BBC hasn’t made a decent science program (i.e. one aimed at people with above GCSE-level general knowledge, and without Brian Cox in), in decades.

    My proposed solution, at least to bring down the licence fee, would be to force the BBC to cooperate with other free-to air (and available through freeview) providers to provide content, each obtaining airtime in proportion to the amount paid. For example, if the BBC were to contribute £100 million to a £300 million bid with ITV, for premiership matches, the BBC would get a third of the matches to broadcast… or even possibly not – having fulfilled any charter obligation to provide the content by allowing it to be aired, free-to-view on another channel.

    The squeals of protest from Sky etc, and thier exorbitant pricing for content which often owes its existence to the BBC, would be a worthwhile side-effect in my view.

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Aug ’20 – 12:13pm…………..And they always seem to contain the word ‘guaranteed’… Makes me extremely wary………………

    I think the ‘guarantee’ applies to your death rather than their payout…

    Back to BBC..I no longer watch their news reports (I find them too close to this government). However, much of the rest of their output is well worth my contribution and, as a ‘comfortable’ oldie I am prepared to pay for it…Those significantly poorer than I will still get it free…What is galling are those, who spend their time complaining about ‘handouts’ to those far worse off than they, are the loudest wailers when their ‘freebies’ (BBC, Bus Passes, etc. ) are threatened..

  • @marco

    The council does chase people for payment of the council tax through the courts and bailiffs etc. and you can’t opt out of the council tax. Equally for road tax.

    The BBC has a 92% reach – TV viewers watching some of it at some point during 4 weeks and higher when their website and radio is included. And a 30% share watching it’s channels for an *average* of 53 minutes a day – well ahead of other companies’ groups of channels.

    I suspect that poorer people may be more supportive of the TV licence than richer as providing a good range of content at low cost. For me it provides a wide enough range of good content that I don’t feel compelled to take out another subscription – enough sport as well as drama, comedy etc.

  • @Michael1

    “The council does chase people for payment of the council tax through the courts and bailiffs etc. and you can’t opt out of the council tax“

    True and I loathe Council Tax. Bring back the Local Income Tax policy I say.

    However people can apply for Council Tax reduction if they are on a low income and can navigate the Byzantine means testing.

  • richard underhill 6th Aug '20 - 2:17pm

    Hopefully the next Lib Dem leader will avoid the mistake which Paddy Ashdown made of crIticizing one of the previous leaders, despite his fashion in shoes.
    Mao’s forces were shelling two offshore islands. Chian Kai Shek had retreated to Taiwan with his army.
    Taiwan is now a democracy, although claimed by the communist mainland, with the Kuomingtang no longer in power

    “Taiwan is locked out of most global agencies, such as the World Health Organization, due to the objections of China, which views the island as a Chinese province that is not entitled to any of the rights that statehood confers.

    Taiwan Centres for Disease Control Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang said ‘Azar and members of the U.S. delegation would be tested for coronavirus before leaving for Taiwan, and again upon entry at the airport.’
    Only if they are negative will they be allowed in.’
    “They must wear masks at all times,” Chuang said.

    An obituary of Lee Teng-hui is in the Times of 5 August 2020, page 47.

  • I have always wondered how progressives can support a tax that takes no account of ability to pay? For people who think the BBC is great value, I don’t think anyone wants to take away your right to pay for it – the argument is that those of us who don’t think that it is great value should not have to pay for it. I struggle to think of one thing on the BBC I would pay for. Even the Archers has gone to the dogs.

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