Plan to de­crim­i­nalise those who do not pay

Daily Express - - Front Page - By Sam Lis­ter Deputy Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

BORIS JOHN­SON last night cranked up his of­fen­sive against the BBC with a pro­posal to end crim­i­nal penal­ties for view­ers who do not pay the li­cence fee.

Re­la­tions with the broad­caster were strained to the limit dur­ing the elec­tion af­ter con­cerns about the cor­po­ra­tion’s cov­er­age of the cam­paign.

Min­is­ters con­firmed that the Prime Min­is­ter has asked of­fi­cials to look at de­crim­i­nal­is­ing non-pay­ment of the £154.50 charge.

But the BBC has warned it could leave a £200mil­lion black hole in its cof­fers, which would mean it had less to spend on pro­gram­ming.

Trea­sury min­is­ter Rishi Su­nak said the pro­posal was “some­thing that the Prime Min­is­ter has said we will look at and he’s in­structed peo­ple to look at that”.

He told the BBC’s An­drew Marr Show: “The me­dia

in­dus­try is chang­ing, how peo­ple con­sume me­dia is chang­ing, and it’s of course right that we con­tinue to look at those things over time.

“The BBC is an in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant na­tional in­sti­tu­tion. It plays a very valu­able role in our coun­try, in our life and will al­ways do that.

“I think that things like crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of the fee is some­thing dis­crete and spe­cific that we can and should look at and we will do that in the first in­stance.”

Me­dia com­men­ta­tors said the move could be the first step to scrap­ping the fee al­to­gether.

A 2015 re­view look­ing at is­su­ing penal­ties in a sim­i­lar way to park­ing fines found de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion could raise the risk of eva­sion.

But the courts sys­tem is strain­ing un­der the num­ber of pros­e­cu­tions for non-pay­ment.

Mr Su­nak said the BBC’s fund­ing set­tle­ment was “se­cure” un­til 2027, but did not com­mit to keep­ing the li­cence fee be­yond that.


He said: “I’m not go­ing to sit here and spec­u­late about “things that are, at this point, eight years down the track”, but added: “At the mo­ment the main thing to fo­cus on is just the de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of the li­cence fee and ev­ery­thing else.”

Mr John­son hinted in his elec­tion cam­paign that he was open to look­ing at scrap­ping the li­cence fee.

He said: “You have to ask your­self whether that ap­proach to fund­ing a me­dia com­pany still makes sense in the long term, given the way that other or­gan­i­sa­tions man­age to fund them­selves.”

John Whit­ting­dale, a li­cence fee critic, is be­ing con­sid­ered to re­place Nicky Mor­gan as Cul­ture Sec­re­tary. She has stood down as an MP.

He has pre­vi­ously held the post, which over­sees the BBC, and also chaired the pow­er­ful Com­mons Cul­ture Com­mit­tee.

Mr Whit­ting­dale has urged the BBC to “adapt” to the mod­ern world and sug­gested “some sort of public ser­vice pay­ment” or a much smaller li­cence fee, to cover ser­vices like news and chil­dren’s TV.

De­fence min­is­ter Anne-Marie Trevelyan is also tipped for the job. The li­cence fee gen­er­ated £3.6bil­lion for the BBC in the last fi­nan­cial year, around 75 per cent of its rev­enues.

A BBC spokesman said: “The Gov­ern­ment has al­ready com­mis­sioned a QC to take an in­depth look at this mat­ter and he found that ‘the cur­rent sys­tem of crim­i­nal de­ter­rence and pros­e­cu­tion should be main­tained’ and that it is fair and value for money to li­cence fee pay­ers.

“The re­view also found that non-pay­ment cases ac­counted for ‘a minute frac­tion’ – only 0.3 per cent – of court time. “De­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion could also mean we have at least £200mil­lion less to spend on pro­grammes and ser­vices our au­di­ences love.” The over­haul threat comes amid anger at the BBC’s elec­tion cov­er­age and claims it is a “Re­main bub­ble”. BBC pre­sen­ter An­drew Neil used a prime-time slot to at­tack Mr John­son for fail­ing to ap­pear on his pro­gramme.

But ex-BBC ed­i­tor David El­stein warned against a “sense of en­ti­tle­ment” and “gen­er­alised hos­til­ity” to politi­cians.

For­mer BBC and ITV chair­man Lord Grade said Mr Neil’s mono­logue was “‘pretty close to the edge” of broad­cast­ing rules. No 10 sources said the cor­po­ra­tion “speaks to a pro-Re­main met­ro­pol­i­tan bub­ble in Is­ling­ton, not the real world rep­re­sented by Wake­field and Work­ing­ton”.

The BBC is also un­der fire for ax­ing free li­cences for over-75s next year – an is­sue the Daily Ex­press has campaigned over.

The BBC has said the con­ces­sion will be avail­able only to house­holds where some­one re­ceives Pen­sion Credit from June 2020.

Ma­jor­ity man... ju­bi­lant Boris John­son re­acts to poll news. Inset, Cul­ture Sec­re­tary favourite John Whit­ting­dale

Rishi Su­nak: ‘We can and should look at crim­i­nalised fee’


Ec­static Mr John­son and girl­friend Car­rie Sy­monds, above, watch the UK map turn blue, hugs from Cabi­net mem­bers, right, and thumbs up at cam­paign head­quar­ters, be­low

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