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.
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.