British Public to Continue Funding BBC via Licence Fee

02 December 2004

The BBC will continue to be funded by the British public via a licence fee, currently £121 ($233.50; €175.45), for at least the next decade. This is levied on every TV household in the UK, whether or not it watches BBC programming.

The decision was published today (Thursday) by Lord Terry Burns, chairman of the funding and regulatory review body appointed by the Blair administration. Burns, a former civil servant, retired from the Treasury in 1998, where he was permanent-secretary to chancellor Gordon Brown.

As is usual when such highly placed mandarins retire, the rewards flowed like water: a peerage, and various high level sinecures such as the chairs of Britain's National Lottery and Abbey National Bank.

Burns also supplements his pension with gainful tasks such as heading public reviews of political hot potatoes, for example the ban on fox-hunting and the future of the BBC.

Although the peer and his panel of pontificators (among them Sly Bailey, the ceo of Britain's largest newspaper group, and Tim Gardam, a former director of programmes at Channel 4) have agreed that the licence fee system be retained for the next ten years, they are "impressed" by arguments that the licence fee might become unsustainable once the UK switches to digital TV - expected to be in 2012.

In the run-up to this date, other funding option will be debated, among them charging electronically for viewing (or listening to) BBC programmes, or a set non-mandatory subscription.

As to the governance and regulation of the BBC, the panel's conclusions will be unveiled Friday. Says His Lordship: "In many walks of life there has been a deliberate move away from an approach where institutions were run on the basis of unchallenged trust and informal understandings. This has been replaced by a much greater emphasis on more modern concepts of openness and transparency."

The BBC has already launched a pre-emptive strike on the issue of governance, with new chairman Michael Grade publishing a reform plan that would see its board of governors move to offices outside the BBC with their own researchers and support staff. He also recommends that the government (which appoints the governors) should recruit people with sector-specific expertise.

However, Burns said external regulation by Ofcom or a new invigilator remains a possibility.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff