First Minister says he is not an ‘unambiguous supporter’ of the ‘regressive’ BBC license fee
The First Minister has suggested that the “regressive” BBC license fee could be replaced by a new way of raising funds for the broadcaster.
Mark Drakeford stressed the importance of the BBC in Wales after UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries announced last week that the license fee would be frozen for two years and abolished in 2027.
However, he said that he was not an “unambiguous supporter of the licence fee”.
He was responding to a question from Labour MS Rhiannon Passmore, a former member of the BBC Broadcasting Council for Wales, who said that the broadcaster’s true worth was “immeasurable in public sector duty and global reputation”.
She suggested a very system based on council tax rate bands, and those in band A would pay the most for possession of a tv set and those in band D, the least.
Mark Drakeford responded: “It may well be, as John Whittingdale, another Conservative MP and former Minister said just this week, that it still is the least worst way of raising funds for the BBC, but it is a regressive tax.
“It falls most on those who have the least, and a graded system of the sort that Rhianon Passmore set out may be a way of combining a form of licence fee with greater fairness in the future.
“But those things need to be thought about carefully and by a Government that has the core qualities of the BBC as something it wants to celebrate, not simply putting the BBC in the firing line because of its own extensive difficulties.”
He said however that he agreed entirely with what Rhiannon Passmore said about the importance of the BBC in Wales.
“Ninety two per cent of adults in Wales use the BBC every single week, whether that is for sport, for news or for culture, or in the way in which BBC Cymru supports the Welsh language,” he said.
“And the expansion of the BBC operation in Wales has been integral to the remarkable success of the tv and film industry in Wales over recent years. So, we are absolutely right to defend the BBC on a whole range of fronts: its independence and its public service remit to inform, educate and entertain, and also to defend it from what the Financial Times characterised in Nadine Dorries’s announcement by Twitter on a Sunday evening as simply part of Downing Street’s plan to distract from Boris Johnson’s leadership travails.”
Nadine Dorries said last week that there were no plans yet for what would follow the license fee but that the aim was to begin a “dialogue” and “debate”.
“I have never mentioned the word ‘subscription’,” she said. “As I have said time and again, we need to start a dialogue about how we fund the BBC in the future.”
The plans for the new licence fee settlement cover a period of six years and will take effect from 1 April 2022 until 31 March 2028.
It means the BBC is expected to receive around £3.7 billion in licence fee funding in 2022 and £23 billion over the duration of the settlement period.
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