TORY MPs will this week demand the £145 TV licence fee be replaced with an opt-in subscription.
Up to 50 of them are backing backbencher Andrew Bridgen’s appeal to Culture Secretary Sajid Javid, demanding an urgent Government review of BBC funding. The Sunday Express has learnt that among those calling for the fee to be scrapped is Conservative vice-chairman Rebecca Harris.
Insiders say if the review into funding goes ahead, subscription could become a viable option in discussions for the next BBC Charter in two years.
In a letter to Mr Javid, seen by the ¬Sunday Express, Mr Bridgen argues that the current BBC funding structure is “increasingly becoming unsustainable and out of keeping with the modern media environment”.
The licence fee, he adds, is ¬classed as a tax by the Office for National Statistics and as such remains one of “the most regressive taxes in the UK today”.
“The corporation should be planning for a future without the licence fee and ¬investigating subscription-based payment options, as well as the wealth of further opportunities that exist for its worldwide operation,” he argues. Last year the ¬BBC raked in £3.7billion from licence fee ¬ payers, with additional funding bringing its total revenue to more than £5billion.
Mr Bridgen played a key role in convincing the Government to allow an independent review into whether the non-payment of the licence fee should be a civil offence, rather than a criminal one, after figures revealed 107 people had been jailed for payment avoidance in just two years.
That review will not be completed until after next year’s general election.
Mr Javid is known to be sympathetic to the calls for change. Last month he said a review of BBC funding “should rule ¬nothing out”. If the latest Tory campaign succeeds in pushing the issue on to the party’s ¬manifesto, campaigners say it will “all but ¬guarantee” change.
Speaking to the Sunday Express last night Philip Davies MP said he and “many others” would be backing Mr Bridgen’s call for a review. He said: “I totally believe the BBC licence should be abolished and moved to a subscription model. The BBC keeps saying the fee represents wonderful value for money; in that case it has nothing to fear from entering the market.
“The only reason for the BBC to oppose this idea is because it believes it doesn’t represent such wonderful value and is worried people will vote with their feet.
“In this day and age when there are hundreds of channels to choose from, it is wholly unjustified to impose a compulsory levy for one particular broadcaster, regardless of whether you like their programmes or not.”
Andrew Allison, of the Freedom Association’s Axe The Tax campaign, said: “The BBC should move to a subscription model as soon as is practicable.
“It is the only way forward and the ¬corporation should realise this. The sheer pace of technological change will render the licence fee redundant. It is a matter of when the fee goes, not if.”
A BBC spokesman said: “At just £2.80 a week the BBC licence fee is excellent value for money; only this weekend newspapers have been reporting the rising costs of subscription services.
“It’s vital that programmes like EastEnders, Strictly, Sherlock, Doctor Who and Match of the Day can been watched by everyone, not a select few. Support for the licence fee has actually risen by 22 per cent since 2004 and remains the most ¬popular way of funding the BBC.”
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