Nicky Morgan open to replacing BBC licence fee with Netflix-style subscription

Culture secretary said she would consider it during appearance before select committee

Nicky Morgan, the culture secretary, has said she is “open-minded” about scrapping the BBC television licence fee and replacing it with a Netflix-style subscription service.

The cabinet minister said she would consider it as an option during a select committee hearing in comments that will delight Tory critics of the broadcaster.

She raised the possibility in answer to a question from Julian Knight, the Conservative MP for Solihull, who asked her to consider scrapping the licence fee and suggested a subscription service as a possible policy for the party’s election manifesto.

“I’m open minded and I will have decisions and listen to evidence on all sides,” she said, speaking to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee.

“What I haven’t seen is any evidence, either way, what a subscription-based system would do in terms of the revenue.

“The licence fee last year raised £3.7bn for the BBC. They obviously have other sources of income as well. So I would need to understand what, if you were going to change, that would do to their income.”

Sources in her department later suggested that it would not be a priority for Morgan and pointed out that the government has committed to maintain the licence fee funding model for the BBC until 2027 for the duration of the 11-year charter period.

However, her comments will boost the hopes of some Tory MPs who dislike the BBC and have long been campaigning for an end to the universal £154.50-a-year licence fee. A subscription service like Netflix would mean people having to opt in to watch programmes on BBC channels and listen to its radio stations.

The idea was recently raised by the rightwing Institute for Economic Affairs thinktank, which was welcomed by Knight, who predicted: “Personally, I think the next licence fee will be the last.”

In the same hearing, Morgan said she would not intervene in the BBC’s decision to abolish free TV licences for over-75s.

She said she had “no plans” to review the BBC’s television licence shake-up, after the broadcaster agreed in 2015 to fund the free licences given to those aged over 75.

The BBC announced this year that only low-income households in receipt of pension credits would receive the benefit, meaning around 3.7 million elderly people will have to pay £154.50 a year in future.


Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

The GuardianTramp

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