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Jeremy Hunt puts the BBC on notice that it should expect the licence fee to be cut next year

By Jonathan Isaby

HUNT JEREMY OPEN NECKED SHIRT Bearing in mind the impending cuts in public spending, there was incredulity in many quarters that the BBC was able to enjoy another increase in the licence fee earlier this year, rising as it did in April from £142.50 to £145.50.

But that involuntary largesse is unlikely to continue, based on what Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has told the Daily Telegraph today about the “extraordinary and outrageous” waste in the corporation in recent years.

In his interview with the paper's political editor, Andrew Porter, Hunt gives the clearest sign yet that the Coalition Government will cut the licence fee and that the BBC will have to tighten its belt like the rest of us.

The Culture Secretary explains:

"There is a moment when elected politicians have an opportunity to influence the BBC and it happens every five years. It is when the licence fee is renewed. That will be happening next year. That will be the moment when I use my electoral mandate to say to the BBC now, going forward for the next five years, these are what we think your priorities need to be and there are huge numbers of things that need to be changed at the BBC. They need to demonstrate the very constrained financial situation we are now in.”

Asked whether he can envisage people paying less for the BBC, he replies:

“Yes I could. Absolutely. I think that’s the discussion that we need to have.”

He adds:

"The BBC should not interpret the fact that we haven’t said anything about the way licence fee funds are used as an indication that we are happy about it. We will be having very tough discussions... All the concerns I had in opposition about executive salaries and use of licence fee funds for things many people thought were extraordinary or outrageous - that [next year] will be moment when I express them.”

Hunt also states that the BBC will be forced to open its books to the National Audit Office:

“We are clear – one of the biggest issues with the BBC is there seem to be a steady flow of stories where the way that licence fee payers’ funds are used is not appropriate. The policy on executive remuneration is the biggest. It is absolutely essential that the NAO has access.”

I daresay this will all be music to the ears of most ConHome readers.

> In March 2009 as Shadow Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt used a CentreRight post on ConHome to argue in favour of freezing the licence fee.


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