Grant Shapps Rejects Reports No. 10 Plans To Axe BBC Licence Fee

Transport secretary denies there is "preordained decision" about future of the public service broadcaster.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps arrives for a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in London
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has poured cold water on reports that Downing Street will axe the BBC licence fee.

A report in the Sunday Times suggested Boris Johnson had already decided to cut the levy and fund the BBC through viewer subscriptions.

Quoting senior sources, the report said Number 10 was “not bluffing” and the prime minister would be “really strident” about the need for serious reform.

But, speaking to Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday, Shapps underlined that there was a consultation under way into decriminalising non-payment of the licence fee and there were no “preordained” decisions on future funding models.

“I would be pretty cautious of some unattributed comments,” he said. 

“There is a consultation out there. It is just a consultation at this stage. There are no further decisions made at all.

“The BBC is a much loved national treasure. We all want it to be a huge success. But everybody, including the BBC themselves, recognises that in a changing world the BBC itself will have to change.

“But it is simply not the case that there is some preordained decision about the future funding of the BBC out there. The charter runs to 2027 so there is long way to go on all these decisions.”

It comes as the UK is set to enter trade negotiations with Donald Trump’s US government, with groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce warning there should be no “culture carve-out” for publicly-funded broadcasters. 

The Sunday Times report said there would be a consultation on replacing the licence fee with a subscription model, adding: “We will whack it.”

It added that the number of BBC television channels could also be reduced, the website scaled back and stars banned from cashing in on well-paid second jobs.

The attack will be seen as a further escalation of the hostilities between No 10 and the corporation, with many Tories still angry at its coverage of last year’s general election.

It was reported that the review will be led by former culture secretary John Whittingdale, who was reappointed to his old department in last week’s reshuffle.

The Sunday Times quoted one source as saying: “We are not bluffing on the licence fee. We are having a consultation and we will whack it. It has got to be a subscription model.

“They’ve got hundreds of radio stations, they’ve got all these TV stations and a massive website. The whole thing needs massive pruning back.

“They should have a few TV stations, a couple of radio stations and massively curtailed online presence and put more money and effort into the World Service which is part of its core job.

“The PM is firmly of the view that there needs to be serious reform. He is really strident on this.”

The warning comes after the BBC chairman Sir David Clementi last week mounted a strong defence of the licence fee system.

He warned that putting the broadcaster behind a paywall would undermine its ability to “bring the country together”.

The report also saw Johnson’s aides turn their fire on highly-paid BBC stars who made huge sums from outside work, suggesting they should be forced to donate the money to charity.

“It’s an outrage that people who make their profile at public expense should seek to give themselves further financial rewards and personal gain,” one source told the paper.

“They’re basically making their names on the taxpayer and cashing in. The BBC should immediately halt this practice and give the money to good causes.”

But the Conservatives are not united on major reforms to the BBC, with Damian Green, chairman of the One-Nation caucus of MPs, has urged colleagues to “stop the BBC bashing”. 

A No 10 spokeswoman declined to comment on the remarks.

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