A secret internal report has recommended the BBC should drop the licence fee in favour of subscriptions.
The majority of the 12-person centenary review committee set up by James Purnell, the former Labour DCMS minister and now BBC head of strategy, believes the legally enforceable licence fee cannot be sustained and should be replaced by subscriptions from about 2020.
However, the corporation has denied that the review proposed replacing the licence fee with a subscription scheme. “The report recommends that the BBC pursue an inflationary licence fee increase with greater commercial revenue,” a spokesman said. “No subscription model is recommended.”
The committee is overseen by consultancy EY and contains known BBC licence ‘opponents’ such as David Elstein, former C5 CEO, and academics including LSE professor Julian LeGrand. Their report, leaked to the Sunday Times, has been submitted to the executive board. Another potential option, said to be less favoured by the committee, would be to turn the corporation into a Mutual with members of the public elected to a governing trust.
The move away from the licence fee is beginning to look inevitable. The government heavily hinted last week it would make non-payments a civil offence (rather than criminal) – a move the BBC reckons could see non-payment jump 5 per cent to 10 per cent. However, the government is unhappy with the incarceration of non-payers of fines imposed for avoiders – inevitably often the poorest and most vulnerable – and even more so with amount of court time taken up; fully 10 per cent of magistrates cases are licence fee non-payment.
The BBC itself may be surprisingly relaxed; next week it reveals plans to make iPlayer the ‘front door’ to services with original programmes included and links to other organisations and services. It has already announced plans to charge for downloads through a BBC store and its own polling has suggested users would pay up to £240 (€282) in subscriptions for current services against the £145 licence fee.
On Monday (10th March) BBC spokesman said: “The report recommends that the BBC pursue an inflationary licence fee increase with greater commercial revenue. No subscription model is recommended. ”