By Joe Ventre, digital campaign manager
One unsung hero of the Christmas season is television. Movie marathons, heartstring-tugging adverts, the Queen’s Speech, Christmas specials of your favourite shows - all of these things add to those festive feelings. Yet as we settle down in the evenings and switch on the telly, it isn’t only Father Christmas who is making a list (and checking it twice). If you haven’t stumped up your annual TV tax of £159 to the BBC, you may well end up getting a knock on the door from licence fee enforcement agents.
With the cold weather setting in however, talk of a freeze is in the air. According to government insiders, the fee is set to stay at £159 for up to two years following negotiations with ministers; supposedly to help households with the cost of living. This is not the first time that a freeze of this kind has been implemented. Between 2010 and 2016, the fee was frozen at £145.50. It has since crept up by nine per cent. Perhaps we should all switch to a black and white set; those rates have been frozen at a far more reasonable £49 a year since 2010. What a fitting tribute to an organisation trapped in a bygone era!
You might say a licence fee freeze would be an early Christmas present for taxpayers at a time when taxes and costs are surging. But this is a far cry from the bold plans for the licence fee that this government originally touted. What they were originally aiming for was fundamental reform that would consign the antiquated TV tax to history once and for all.
It seems that the BBC has been allowed to get away with the bare minimum. When people called out six-figure-salaried stars flouting impartiality rules online, the corporation issued social media “guidance”, which was met with derision by the likes of Gary Lineker. When critics argue that the corporation is out of touch with the interests and concerns of ordinary Brits, they pledge a nine-figure sum towards diversity and inclusion. As I wrote in a blog piece last year, the BBC cannot continue to tread water and treat viewers with contempt in this way - it is delusional and self-destructive in an age of Netflix and YouTube. If the Beeb truly wishes to safeguard its own existence in the future, it should be backing our calls to replace the licence fee.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance has long campaigned for the TV tax to be axed and the transformation of the BBC’s funding model. Analysis from our research team has laid bare how we can make this possible within the current framework. Our proposals to privatise swathes of the BBC would not only negate the need for a licence fee, but could generate more than £2 billion for the government if shares were floated at market value. This would be enough to increase the standard tax-free personal allowance by £300. That could cover the annual subscription fees for Amazon Prime, Disney+ and Netflix combined!
As our policy analyst Darwin Friend explained in an interview with GB News, this move would “not only benefit the public and taxpayers but . . . will also benefit those broadcasters themselves, because it will make them more competitive.”
The BBC may well have carved themselves out another cosy compromise this Christmas, but the dither and delay over the fundamental licence fee issue only serves to harm their credibility in the long-term; drawing a stark distinction between Auntie and the modern media giants, who have enough self-confidence to let customers opt-in. If ministers and the BBC’s top brass are serious about easing the burden on hard-pressed households, they should put an end to these sticking-plaster solutions and consider the reforms that we have proposed. Wouldn’t that be a Christmas miracle?