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Monday, July 15, 2024
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HomeBBC WatchMy case for killing off the BBC licence fee

My case for killing off the BBC licence fee

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IN 2020/21 the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) launched the Richard Koch Breakthrough Prize. This was an essay competition, with a prize of £50,000, sponsored by Koch, an author and entrepreneur.  The question that entrants were asked to answer was:

‘In the current severe economic climate, what pro-market, pro-enterprise policy would be the best way of supercharging growth, employment and living standards in “left behind” Britain? That policy must be both politically possible and compatible with a free market society’. Entrants were asked to provide a precis, with finalists having to produce the full essay. Alas, I did not make it to the final. I would still contend, however, that my proposal could help reverse the economic decline of the country (set out in all its awful detail by Ewen Stewart in his recent piece

As a proposal which is politically possible, totally compatible with a free-market economy, cost-free and feasible, I still think it is hard to beat! I hope it interests and amuses, and should any reader wish to send me £50k, I can always forward my address . . . 

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Introduction

This entry may not be, I fear, extensive enough to win the generous Richard Koch Breakthrough prize (though of course I hope it might and think it should). It may be worthy of a bottle of decent Australian Shiraz, and I would even contribute £100 of my own money to buy such bottles for the four best suggestions that, while perfectly viable, your judges may not feel comprehensive enough to justify the full £50k. 

My policy is, however, simple, politically possible, compatible with a free market and, if not ‘supercharging’ living standards in those ‘left behind’, would certainly transfer resources from the rich to poor and from London and major cities to the less well-off parts of Britain.

My Policy:

Abolish the BBC licence fee. Make the BBC a subscription channel, or at the very least remove criminal sanction from licence fee collection. 

Snappy Title:

If a slogan is required:‘Down with Feudalism. Free the Poor. Open the Airwaves. Abolish the BBC Licence Fee Now!’

The feudal aspect is the extraordinary legal privilege the BBC holds: it extorts a charge on anyone, even if all they wish to do is watch non-BBC programmes. As the old Lord of the Manor, to whom serfs owe tribute.

Evidence of Benefit

Abolition of the BBC licence fee is certainly pro-market: it would stop a compulsorily-funded bureaucratic behemoth from drowning local media. That would encourage local papers, broadcasters and content creators, much as BT privatisation opened the UK telecoms market. Local issues would be encouraged and a London-centric worldview no longer subsidised and promoted.

Giving £159 (the current annual fee) to each person by abolishing such a deeply regressive tax will overwhelmingly benefit the poorest and ‘left-behind’ in our land, those to whom such a sum is significant, and to whom it would directly raise living standards. Such people would likely spend that money locally, thus charging up the local economy, and for years to come. The National Audit Office notes: ‘Areas with high evasion rates are most likely to have, for example, a higher than average proportion of younger people, low-income households, and students and single parent families, and a level of County Court judgments 50 per cent above the national average.’

Abolition or removal of criminal sanctions and enforcement removes a huge slice of red tape. The Magistrates’ Association has long requested that licence-fee enforcement be removed from the criminal law; such cases clog up the system and removing criminal enforcement will free up Magistrates’ Courts for more effective work. There will be no imprisonment of evaders, so great social benefits to those released, and freeing resources in the hard-pressed Prison Service.

Capita employees and other licence-fee enforcement officers are freed for more productive work.

Possible Drawbacks

Though not a factor in the prize, I acknowledge there would be some negative effects, but those affected would be highly paid, educated metropolitans. And there are often opportunities for such people that are denied to the poorer. 

Conclusion:

Abolition of the BBC licence fee is a transfer from rich to poor and from wealthy to deprived communities. A direct and annual injection of cash to ‘left-behind’ areas of Britain, with no cost to the Exchequer. A boost for the creative arts and for regions. A reduction of bureaucracy and red tape. And it is very simple to introduce.

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Peter Lucey
Peter Lucey
Retired. Politics and life are serious, but best viewed with a sense of humour; and a major part of life is coping with failure.

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