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Jowell: BBC on borrowed time

June 14, 2010

Tessa Jowell, the long-serving culture secretary in the Labour Government and main architect of the BBC's 10-year licence fee settlement in 2007, has said the BBC is on borrowed time and its behaviour, and that of its regulator the BBC Trust, is endangering its existence.

Jowell, who claims she had fight deep scepticism in government to get the 2007 settlement, accused the BBC of “wanting the benefits of the private sector with none of the risk.” She predicted today that the BBC will face “the fight of its life” to preserve the licence fee under the new coalition government.

Jowell said that “the BBC has backed off in terms of its accountability” and implied that the BBC Trust is not doing the job it was set up to do. “The conception of the BBC Trust was essentially to put the licence fee payer in charge,” Jowell said. “It is for those who are members of the trust, the chairman of the trust, to exercise the imagination and to understand the mood of the moment.” She implied that even though the BBC is funded by a mandatory licence, in effect a national tax, it essentially doesn't buy in to being part of public service and having to justify its actions and expenses on that basis. “The BBC could become the biggest mutual in the country, but it requires drive, focus, organisation and a love of the public realm,” she said.

The BBC Trust responded: “The BBC Trust consults with licence fee payers wherever possible to get their views…the BBC has introduced measures such as a 25 per cent cut in the senior manager pay bill, tough efficiency targets and greater transparency in pay and expenses.”

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