The Daily Telegraph

BBC licence fee set for review by ‘long-term sceptic’ Donelan

- By Dominic Penna

‘I’m someone who decides policy on evidence and that’s what I will be doing in the coming weeks’

THE BBC must be “sustainabl­e”, the new Culture Secretary has said ahead of a licence fee review in the “coming weeks”.

Michelle Donelan praised the broadcaste­r for its coverage of the Queen’s funeral but insisted viewers must have more choice in the age of Netflix.

She declined to say whether she would scrap the £159 annual charge, a move that Nadine Dorries, her predecesso­r, had been considerin­g. She singled out BBC and Sky News for “tremendous” programmin­g and insisted “nobody could fault them” before and during the nation’s final goodbye to Her Majesty on Monday.

“I went to see the operation and it was phenomenal and required everyone to get their heads down and prioritise public service through the period and they did that, spot on,” she said.

But speaking to Sky News, she added: “It just showed the true value of the BBC, but for me that means it’s even more important that we make sure that the BBC is sustainabl­e in the long term.

“It is no secret that I have been a long-term sceptic of the licence fee… I’m looking at this in the round. I’m someone who decides policy on evidence and that’s what I will be doing in the coming weeks.” She said the continued success of services like Netflix and Amazon Prime had made it all the more important to ensure “the current model that the BBC uses… is providing that choice element to the general public”.

Ms Donelan, the MP for Chippenham, Wilts, said in her local newspaper in 2019 that she was against the licence fee in principle, writing: “Personally I think the licence fee is an unfair tax and should be scrapped altogether.”

She yesterday appeared to strike a more conciliato­ry note about the future of Channel 4, which Boris Johnson’s administra­tion announced in April would be privatised before the next general election.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are looking especially at the business case for the sale of Channel 4 and making sure that we still agree with that decision and that is what I am doing. I’m the type of politician that bases their decision on evidence, that bases their decisions on listening and that’s what I will be doing over the coming weeks. I will take that approach when it comes to Channel 4 and every aspect of my brief.”

Amid the debate about its funding, earlier this year the BBC pointed to its five principles on the future of the licence fee – public service, impartiali­ty, sustainabl­e finances, growing the creative economy, and value for audiences.

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