I read the ConHome post on love bombing with interest. Hopefully David Cameron's strong line on both the licence fee freeze, the Ross/Brand affair and Mark Thompson's salary indicates that however often he meets the BBC hierarchy (and as Leader of the Opposition it is surely right that he does) he never pulls his punches when he wants to raise an issue.
It is, however, Andy Burnham's reaction to yesterday's licence fee announcement that should worry us the most. He said it was a matter for the BBC Trust and not politicians. Really? Even the BBC's own fact sheets say “the Government sets the level of the licence fee.”
The idea that the BBC Trust should set the level of the licence fee would mean the corporation writing a blank cheque to itself. Andy Burnham has confused editorial independence at the BBC, which is essential, and financial accountability.
When it comes to the editorial independence, we would actually like to see it strengthened not weakened, which is why we have proposed that the body that regulates the BBC should be accountable to parliament and not to ministers. As for financial accountability - speaking up for licence fee payers - isn't that precisely what politicians should do? And not just when it comes to the level of the licence fee either. I would like to see more accountability in three specific areas:
- A detailed breakdown of how licence fee money is spent on the back of every licence fee, as council tax bills now do
- Transparency over celebrity salaries paid by the BBC, which are currently kept confidential
- Full and unfettered access by the National Audit Office to the BBC accounts.