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Channel 4 boss: Swapping BBC licence for tax would lead to more government cuts

Channel 4’s chairman Lord Burns has warned against swapping the TV Licence for a household tax, saying that it would put BBC funding in a perilous position. 

Drawing from his own experiences at the Treasury, Lord Burns, who is also chairman of Santander UK, said that scrapping the optional £145.50/year licence fee for a mandatory household tax might solve the problem of fee evasion, currently a criminal offence, but would also see the amount vary on a yearly basis. 

Speaking to the House of Commons culture select committee this week, Lord Burns said: “The great advantage they have had with the licence fee is with five or 10-year settlements there has been an important degree of protection… In my experience everything is up for play each year. Do we really want BBC income up for debate each year?” 

Related: Are people really cutting the BBC cord? and Five myths about the BBC TV Licence busted Lord Burns has instead called for the BBC to adopt a Sky-style subscription model with conditional access, which would remove the threat of legal action for non-payment but also lock out those customers who currently watch catch-up content on BBC iPlayer without paying a penny towards its running costs

This would see it better able to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon, which charge subscriptions starting at £5.99/month for access to on-demand programming. 

The TV licence by contrast is almost double this; £145.50 would work out at £12.13/month if you were to compare costs. That said, the BBC also supports rolling 24 hour news as well as BBC News and BBC Sport apps, not to mention multiple radio stations, online news and live streams, which Netflix and Amazon obviously do not.  

Swapping the fee in it’s current form – which will continue to cost £145.50/year until 2020 – with a household levy is supported by Lord Hall, director-general of the BBC. 

Last month, former director-general and ex-chairman of the BBC and ITV Lord Grade called for the BBC to retain its monopoly on funding, effectively saying that a privately-funded BBC would be pointless. 

Lord Grade said: “If you put the BBC into competition for revenue, you don’t need the BBC. It’s the end of the BBC.” 

Lord Grade had previously defeated a motion in Parliament that could have seen non-payment of licence fee-related fines become a civil, rather than criminal offence. 

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