A campaign calling for the BBC to be mutualised has seen increased support this week, following the culture secretary’s announcement of a freeze on the BBC fees for the next two years and uncertainty around the future BBC funding model beyond that.
The Co-operative Party is campaigning for the BBC to remain publicly owned, but for key decisions to be put into the hands of licence payers through a BBC Trust. The petition calling for this, which went live last year, had around 7,000 supporters signed up last week and is currently at 16,046.
Joe Fortune, general secretary of the Party, said: “We know that thousands of co-operators around the country care deeply about the BBC, as underlined by the strong response we’ve seen since yesterday’s developments.”
Earlier this week the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Nadine Dorries, confirmed reports that the BBC’s licence fee will be frozen for the next two years. The annual licence fee would have risen to £167 in April if allowed to increase with inflation, which is currently at 5.1%. Without this rise, the BBC expects a £265m shortfall by 2027.
Initial reports suggested that the licence fee was to be abolished in 2027, prompted by a tweet from Ms Dorries on Sunday stating that the current licence fee settlement “will be the last”. But Ms Dorries has since made a statement to parliament in which she described the future funding model as “up for discussion”.
The developments came as a surprise to the BBC’s director general Tim Davie, who described Ms Dorries’ tweet as an “interesting” way of announcing the plans, adding: “inevitably, if your licence fee is set by politicians, you are in the political swirl”.
Some opposition figures have claimed the announcements, and the way they were delivered, are part of a package of policy announcements rushed out to protect the prime minister’s position amid calls for his resignation over the partygate scandal.
Shadow culture secretary – and Labour/Co-op MP – Lucy Powell accused Ms Dorries of “cultural vandalism” and said: “The culture secretary’s hapless performance on the future of the BBC had more holes than the cheese served at the prime minister’s lockdown breaking parties.
“It is clear that the Conservative Party’s vendetta against the BBC threatens local news services, jobs, the prosperity of our creative industries and a great British treasure that is the envy of the world.
“Nadine Dorries has made it clear she is ending BBC funding as we know it yet she offered not a single possible alternative. She is more interested in saving the prime minister’s skin after his lies and disintegrating leadership, rather than respecting a great British institution and securing its future.”
The Co-op Party’s campaign for a “People’s BBC”, launched in 2015, argues that putting decision-making in the hands of a trust elected by licence fee payers would ensure the BBC’s accountability to the public, and maintain its independence from political and commercial interests.
Mr Fortune added, “We’re clear that the BBC should be owned by and answer to the great British public. A mutual model for this national institution would protect it from the whims of politicians, and safeguard its future as a public broadcaster.”