A cabinet minister has dismissed reports that suggested the UK government was seeking to replace the BBC’s licence fee funding model with a Netflix-style subscription service.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said that while ministers had launched a consultation on lifting the criminal penalties on those refusing to pay the television licence fee, there were no “preordained” decisions on the broadcaster’s funding model.
A senior Downing Street source told the Sunday Times newspaper that there would be a consultation on scrapping the licence fee, which could see the BBC forced to sell the majority of its flagship radio stations.
However, Mr Shapps played down suggestions the government was set to abolish the £154.50 annual licence fee, which last year raised £3.7bn for the BBC, about three-quarters of its revenue.
Number 10 officials said on Sunday that the government had at this stage only committed to a consultation on decriminalising the licence fee and pointed to Mr Shapps’ comments.
The broadcaster’s existing funding model is secure until its Royal Charter expires in 2027.
The minister told Sky News: “I would be pretty cautious of some unattributed comments. There is a consultation out there. 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, recognise 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.”
Reports on Sunday of scrapping the fee triggered an immediate backlash from Conservative MPs. “I hope the Sunday Times story about the BBC is kite-flying”, the former Tory minister Damian Green commented on Twitter. “Destroying the BBC wasn’t in our manifesto and would be cultural vandalism. ‘Vote Tory and close Radio 2’. Really?”
The Conservative MP Huw Merriman added: “I’m not sure this vendetta against the #BBC is going to end well. No mention of it in our manifesto (where we actually promised to work with BBC to build new partnerships across globe) so I won’t be supporting it.”
The BBC has been in the line of fire since its decision last year to cut free licences for about two-thirds of pensioners, prompting a storm of anger over how it spends the money it receives from the public.
During the general election campaign, Boris Johnson fired a warning shot at the BBC about its future funding after questioning the long-term viability of the licence fee.
The prime minister said in December that he was “certainly looking at” whether the national broadcaster should be funded by the public purse.
The BBC said: “The BBC plays an important role for the country at home and abroad, it is the bedrock of our world-beating creative industries, and reaches millions of people every day.”
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