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March 14, 2009

The BBC, the National Emergency and Fiscal Stimulus: Jeremy Black proposes cutting the license fee to boost the economy

Posted by Jeremy Black

The depth of the fiscal crisis and the need for institutions and individuals to respond and adapt are key themes. In attempting to maintain consumer activity, the government cut VAT in order to maintain purchasing power. Surely a substantial reduction in the license fee itself (itself a form of poll tax) would be a means to enhance such purchasing power without causing strain for the public finances.

There would also be far less detrimental consequences for the real economy than those caused by possible cuts in many areas of public expenditure, for example defence procurement. Instead of such cuts, there has been a major rise in expenditure on the BBC, much of it organisational, for example the expensive process of subsidising staff to move to Salford.

The failure to introduce cuts in the licence fee raises the question of why the government should neglect an obvious opportunity to reduce financial strain, one moreover that would increase the sense that cuts and hardship are widespread and, therefore, a collective experience. The obvious answer is that the government is rewarding a key constituency and trying to ensure support. This could be dismissed as cynicism was there not a troubling pattern of co-operation between Labour and BBC to the political advantage of the former and the institutional convenience of the latter. This is an issue for the Conservatives, whether in opposition or in government. The role of the BBC needs to be addressed and due impartiality required and ensured.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter, and the author of War Since 1990.

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