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Paul T Horgan: Bloated BBC salaries rely on jail threats for the rest of us

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Wednesday’s news was dominated by the release of salary levels of BBC staff who earn more than Mrs May.

Rather than focus on why potato crisp salesman Gary Lineker needs to be paid over £1.7million, consider where the money comes from.

It is a regressive household tax, quaintly described as a licence fee.  Evasion of this tax is a criminal offence.

No-one goes to jail for not paying this tax.  People can only be fined.

However people can and do go to jail for non-payment of the fine.

In 2012, fifty people were jailed.  Forty three were jailed for no more than a month.  However, at least one woman spent up to three years in prison.  All because she did not pay her TV licence and also failed pay the fine for non-payment.  Those prosecuted are usually not in ignorance of the legal requirement, but may not be able to afford to do so. In that year, most of the ‘offenders’ hailed from the East Midlands, and Yorkshire and Humber areas.

There must have been a touch of guilt at Capita, the firm paid by the BBC to not only collect the TV (and now Internet) tax but also to mount its private prosecutions against the non-payers.  In 2013 the figure reduced to 35 souls who spent time in our overcrowded prisons.  Cells that should have been used to hold robbers and thugs were blocked by people probably unable to afford the cost of the BBC, even if they don’t actually watch it.  Mercifully, no-one in 2013 spent more than three months in jail for not helping Gary Lineker become a millionaire.

Capita is used by the BBC so the corporation is not directly associated with the dirty rigmarole of legal threats used to force people to contribute to Top Gear failure Chris Evans’s £2.2 million annual salary. Fortunately for us, only 26 people were jailed in 2014. Again, most of the incarcerated came from the East Midlands, and Yorkshire and Humber areas.

In the first nine months of 2015, 29 people were jailed. Perhaps some new management at Capita thought they were getting too soft.  In the name of ‘equality’, both men and women were jailed for up to three years this time, but the greatest number of offenders hailed from the Eastern counties of England. The jails of the North East were less burdened.

The BBC refuses to disclose how much it costs to prosecute these unfortunate people, as their ‘arms length’ relationship with Capita means that it is outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.  The BBC does not know if it is getting value for money, stating it has never looked in to the matter, but also refuses to find out if licence-fee payers’ money is being efficiently spent. It does state that “Capita will apply for a contribution towards prosecution costs in every case that is found proved by the court.” The BBC want the people who cannot pay the TV licence to pay for the process that can send them to prison.

A total of 140 people were jailed for non-payment of about £20,000 of licence fees over 4 years. That sum is less than one-twentieth of Andrew Marr’s salary. Marr’s tax bill for the work he does in soft-soaping John McDonnell on a Sunday probably covers the cost of incarceration in Her Majesty’s prisons.

The BBC’s salaries are based on a threat of prosecution and the consequent human misery when it is carried out.  Rather than using the criminal justice system, there is no good reason why the BBC should not use civil proceedings, like the utility companies do.  The BBC is only really a broadcasting utility.  It does not need similar power to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.  Money sent to the BBC is not used to pay for schools, hospitals and our armed forces.  The BBC is not (openly) an arm of state propaganda.  There is no good reason why such coercive measures are still used, especially now that the choice of what to watch or listen to has exponentially increased.  The BBC does not seem to realise that we no longer have just the three national TV channels and four radio stations, of which just one is outside its remit.  The licence fee is obsolete, as is jailing people over its non-payment.

If all these people who are paid more than the woman charged with ordering the release of nuclear weapons have any conscience, they could band together to pay the licence fees of those facing jail.  At the very least, this would save the taxpayer the £100-a-day cost of incarceration.  They should appreciate the high price paid for their services has a human cost among those less fortunate than them.  It is the loss of human liberty, a final indignity on top of their other worries.  In the YouTube age, the stars of socialised television should demonstrate some humility while receiving their taxpayer-funded rewards.

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Paul T Horgan
Paul T Horgan works in the IT Sector. He lives in Berkshire.

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