Nicky Morgan: Licence fee could be abolished from 2027

Josh Peachey's picture
by Josh Peachey

The Culture Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has questioned the suitability of funding the BBC through the licence fee and ministers are "open-minded" about funding options post-2027.

Whilst Morgan guaranteed the licence fee's short-term existence, she said it was time to look at new ways of subsidising public service broadcasting.

Launching a consultation on whether to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee, she compared the corporation to the defunct video rental chain Blockbuster, warning that once-mighty media organisations could collapse quickly if they failed to adapt.

Addressing an audience in central London, Nicky Morgan said: “If you have to criminalise non-payment of the licence fee in order for the BBC to remain relevant then that suggests something is wrong with the model.

“Criminal sanctions are for issues that are damaging to society.”

Plans to decriminalise the licence fee and turn non-payment into a civil offence have also been backed by women’s charities and prison reform campaigners, as the vast majority of prosecutions are against women.

More than 120,000 people a year are prosecuted for non-payment of the licence fee, with five people sent to prison in 2018 for failing to pay fines relating to their cases.

The BBC’s director-general, Tony Hall, announced last month that he would stand down to allow his successor to conduct negotiations with the government over the amount it can charge for the licence fee.

In Sweden, almost all adults pay a supplementary tax to fund public service broadcasting. Other countries have chosen to fund their national broadcasters directly, using government funding.

When a Netflix-style subscription model was proposed, critics said that it would be near-impossible to password-protect existing television channels and that Netflix does not aim to provide the universal news service offered by the BBC.

Morgan implied that this idea wasn't an option as she is committed to the universal approach of the BBC and its ability to bring together large audiences in one place.