The veteran TV presenter David Dimbleby has suggested the BBC licence fee could be linked to council tax to make it fairer as the government questions future funding of the broadcaster.
Dimbleby, who presented Question Time on the BBC for 25 years, said: “The licence fee is something that I absolutely believe in. I don’t think you can have public service broadcasting without paying for it through the public purse in that way.
“But what I do think is the BBC should acknowledge that £159 paid by the poorest as well the richest is just unfair, it’s inequitable,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World at One.
“And there’s a simple way in which the BBC can get on the front foot, which is by suggesting the licence fee figure, the gross figure of £159, should not be paid flat-rate by everybody, but the richest should pay more and the poorest less. And the simple way of doing it would be to attach an element of the licence fee to the council tax band.”
Asked if this could mean a sharp price rise for wealthier users, he replied: “Some people might pay double, some people might pay half.”
He added: “Why should the poorest pay the same as I pay? It’s just not fair.”
The culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, announced on Monday that the annual fee paid by households would be fixed at £159 until April 2024, before rising with inflation for the following four years.
A number of alternatives to funding for the licence fee have been floated, including an opt-in subscription service similar to that used by streaming firms such as Netflix, the introduction of advertising, or a broadband levy.
The BBC has criticised the two-year freeze, arguing it will lead to “tougher choices” that will affect viewers. Bosses at the corporation have called the move “disappointing” as Dorries even came under criticism from her own side while arguing it was necessary to tackle the rising cost of living.
Labour has accused the cabinet minister of trying to distract from Boris Johnson’s woes while waging a “vendetta” against the broadcaster.
Asked that if cuts were needed, what should be cut, Dimbleby said: “If you stick with everything you’ve got and you have less money, then inevitably the quality deteriorates. So maybe you do have to make cuts and I don’t know where they would lie. Maybe you have to have some services that are subscription, some specialised services.”
Dimbleby also said the BBC must do more to keep in “lockstep” with public opinion, saying it has strayed “a bit”, on issues such as immigration. “Over the years the BBC has not been strong on looking at the reasons that people in some parts of Britain were uneasy about the scale of immigration,” he said.