Ed Vaizey: In a downturn, people will question the value of the licence fee

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The Independent Online

We in the Conservative party are fans of the BBC. In an uncertain world, the BBC provides a great resource for publicly-funded high-quality content. When looking for a solution to the future of public service broadcasting, we want one that is the least damaging to the BBC's integrity.

Although we believe in plurality in public service broadcasting, we do not believe the solution to the challenges presented by the internet age is necessarily to try and create another BBC. Having said that, it is equally important that the BBC stop acting like a friendly monopolist, making noises about partnerships, and engages seriously in discussions about how to ensure plurality in public service broadcasting.

On other matters: while we support the licence fee, and believe it is the best way to fund the BBC for the foreseeable future, we believe the level of the licence fee is at the top end of what is acceptable to the public.

The current settlement – which lasts to 2012 – built in increases of 13-15 per cent. That was a generous settlement when times were good. It may start to look prohibitive as times get increasingly bad.

The BBC Trust, under Sir Michael Lyons, has done a good job, and I congratulate him. So what follows is not personal, it is, as they say, business. We think that there needs to be a clearer divide between regulation and management. The BBC should have its own chairman, who can cheer lead for the Corporation, while the head of the regulator gets on with regulating. A truly independent regulator would provide a genuine voice for the licence-fee payer.

Finally, there is the issue of costs. The Ross/Brand row was not just about bad taste, though that was important. It was also about the huge amount of money the BBC is paying Jonathan Ross and other stars. A public service broadcaster with guaranteed revenue shouldn't compete with the private sector on top talent salaries. In fact, I would go further and say the BBC pushes up the price of talent. So we will ensure that the BBC publishes fully audited accounts which will include details of the salaries of all its top talent. The BBC should be prepared to defend salary, and indeed all expenditure decisions it makes.

Shadow Culture Minister Ed Vaizey was speaking at the Oxford Media Convention yesterday