Outlook: Leave Auntie just as she is

Nobody doubts the size of the management task facing John Birt, director general of the BBC. In some respects the BBC's licence fee is every chief executive's dream - a guaranteed source of income into the indefinite future. Unfortunately this unique, hypothecated tax is not all upside. The fixed licence fee means there is limited scope for growing revenue, which in turn necessitates spreading a fixed pool of money more and more thinly in the fight for audience. Furthermore, from this year onwards the Beeb will be spending a tenth of its revenue annually on the conversion to digital. That means less money for programming, less money for trouncing increasingly fierce competition.

All the same, it is not clear that making the BBC into an institution mutually owned by licence fee payers - as suggested in a new booklet by the Institute for Public Policy Research, a left leaning think tank - would solve the problem. There would be some potential advantages, obviously. Removing the BBC from public ownership would allow the BBC to raise debt without affecting the level of public sector borrowing or going the whole hog of privatisation, though for what purpose the IPPR doesn't say. And mutual ownership might make licence-fee payers feel more attached to the BBC as well as making the BBC more answerable to its viewers.

But in the end the proposal suffers from a fundamental flaw - you cannot privatise a tax without allowing people the right to opt out of it. The virtue of the present licence fee system - which is unique to Britain - is its attributes as a flat rate tax, affordable to all, capable of funding a basic level of quality, public service broadcasting. The moment the BBC is removed from the public sector, a sizeable minority, possibly swelling over time to a majority, is going to start wondering why they should be paying a licence fee at all when they spend their lives watching Sky, down the gym or loitering on street corners.

Furthermore, it is questionable that we actually want the BBC independently tapping the capital markets for extra sources of income. The BBC is already a monopoly broadcaster in the UK with nearly a half of the total TV and radio market. That's enough for any organisation, even one producing such lasting monuments of our age as Teletubbies and Eastenders. Nothing would be gained by attempting to make it more dominant still. The BBC is perfectly all right as it is, thanks very much.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Digital Optimisation Executive - Marketing

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's fastest growing, multi...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Reporting Manager

£70000 - £90000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Financial Reporting Manager i...

Recruitment Genius: Payments Operations Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They win lots of awards for the...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Debt Negotiator

£13500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This nationwide enforcement com...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific