Build trust or face licence fee cut, BBC warned

Tory chairman Grant Shapps has increased pressure on BBC. Picture: Getty
Tory chairman Grant Shapps has increased pressure on BBC. Picture: Getty
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THE BBC could face a cut in the licence fee or even have to compete with other broadcasters for a share of the money unless it rebuilds public trust and becomes more transparent, a senior Conservative minister has suggested.

Tory chairman Grant Shapps said the BBC must tackle a culture of secrecy and waste in the wake of the Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall scandals and rows over stars’ salaries and pay-offs to senior executives.

He said there was a “question of credibility” for the BBC over whether it applied “fairness” to its reporting of politics.

With the BBC’s royal charter coming up for renewal in 2016, Mr Shapps suggested that there were “lots of different ways” in which licence fee-payers’ money could be used to fund public service broadcasting.

He said that the £145.50 annual fee would be “too much” if the BBC failed to reform.

Mr Shapps is not a full Cabinet member but attends the weekly meetings in 10 Downing Street in his role of minister without portfolio, and is regarded as a rising star in Prime Minister David Cameron’s team.

He made clear Conservative frustrations with the BBC.

“They have ended up working in this culture which is buried in the last century, which is ‘we are the BBC, we do what we like, we don’t have to be too accountable’,” he said.

“But they are raising £3.6 billion through the licence fee, which is a tax, and, quite rightly, the public wants to have sight of how the money is spent. Things like the pay-offs have really caused concern, as have things like Savile and Hall and the culture that goes around that. I think it is one of too much secrecy.”

BBC director general Lord Hall should consider opening the corporation’s books to full inspection by the National Audit Office (NAO), publishing all expenditure over £500 – including stars’ salaries – and opening up to freedom of information requests, he said.

“In order for the public to have confidence in the three-and-a-half billion [pounds] plus that is given to the BBC – compulsorily, just because you have a television – and to move beyond Savile and the pay-offs and all the rest of it, the only way they can do that is to really go for a much more transparent, open deliberate policy,” said the Tory chairman.

A BBC spokesman said: “Mr Shapps is right that transparency is key to the future of the BBC. So is its freedom from political pressure.

“In 2012, the BBC dealt with more than 1,600 freedom of information requests and volunteered information on hundreds more. This year alone we have appeared in front of 16 parliamentary committees, while the NAO has full access to the BBC’s operations except its editorial decisions.

“We are proud of the quality of our news and its commitment to reporting without bias. Where we believe or are shown to have erred we correct and apologise.”