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Time bomb ticks under BBC funding issue

Somehow or other, the FT – not by and large a fan of the BBC – has managed to dig up an academic who can conclusively prove that top-slicing, the principle of rechannelling a portion of the BBC licence fee to other worthy causes, is nothing new.

Apparently, up to 1962, it was quite routine. Besides the treasury holding back 12.5% as part of general revenue, a further 8 or 9% found its way to the Post Office. A handsome commission for handling the licence’s distribution, you must agree. But, come to think of it, a handy precedent for bailing out a national institution which is gradually bankrupting us and yet refuses to be privatised.

Bradshaw: Intemperate

Bradshaw: Intemperate

The ‘precedent’ is of course further ammunition for our new, and intemperate, culture secretary, Ben Bradshaw, who has made no bones about imposing top-slicing by parliamentary statute if necessary.

Luckily for the BBC’s senior brass, this looks like being a remote possibility – what with a general election looming, the Government will have other priorities.

But only temporarily. The issue is going to come back to haunt the BBC with a vengeance, because any future administration will be cash-strapped for the foreseeable, and therefore on the look-out for an easy raid.

And when the politicians do get round to plundering the licence fee, what will be the consequences for BBC, the world-beating brand? Not good, for sure. More on this in the column this week.

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