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UK.gov may cut BBC licence fee in 2012

Culture minister says 'tough discussions' to follow

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Culture minister Jeremy Hunt reiterated over the weekend that the BBC’s licence fee could be cut in recognition of the “very constrained financial situation” the country currently faces.

The Tory MP, in an interview with Saturday’s Daily Telegraph, accused the Beeb of being guilty of “extraordinary and outrageous” waste in the past few years.

He warned that the government’s silence on the licence fee issue did not mean the ConDem coalition was satisfied with the BBC management team.

“We will be having very tough discussions,” said Hunt.

In fact the minster gave the clearest signal yet that viewers could soon be paying less for their licence fee once his department renegotiates the £145.50 a year levy with the Mark Thompson-led Corporation next year.

When asked whether he could see the licence fee being reduced when it’s up for renewal in 2012, Hunt answered: “Yes I could. Absolutely. I think that’s the discussion that we need to have.”

In recent months the BBC has been making noises about reeling back spending at the corporation by announcing plans to redirect £600m into "high quality" programmes.

As a result, the Beeb's website operation will effectively be halved over the next few years, with its online budget being slashed by a quarter.

Many have interpreted director-general Thompson's proposals as his effort to allay the government's licence fee concerns.

In March the Tories made a pre-election pledge in which the party said it would "consider using the proportion of the licence fee dedicated to digital switchover to finance superfast broadband roll out under the new BBC licence fee settlement, starting in 2012", if it failed to convince the private sector to get on board with its plans.

If that happens, alongside cuts to the annual licence fee, then it's possible the BBC's spending could be even more squeezed.

Inevitably, protests against the possible licence fee cuts have already surfaced online. ®

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