Slimming the BBC would be so easy

I am glad that the sick joke of Mr Ross has a good outcome – both Labour and the Conservatives now think pay is out of control at the BBC. This state pensioner needs to gain some financial discipline quickly, so the licence payer gets better value for the money we are forced to pay.

The large numbers of layers of ineffective management, all on very high salaries, would be a good starting place for cuts. One of the most interesting things to come out of the Ross saga was how many highly paid people above him were involved but failed to show any judgement. Let’s have fewer, and let’s pay them less. Their task is no more difficult than a Cabinet Minsiters, and they show no more competence, so let’s pay them at that sort of level.

It would also be a good idea to look at how many channels are truly “public service” deserving of subsidy, and how many should be commercial and required to compete for funds and audience in the usual way. Surely no one can argue that what Mr Ross does is “public service”. If you want to pay such a huge sum to someone to do what as he does, then it should be from the pockets of those who enjoy that sort of thing, financed through adverts or subscription or sponsorship.Many people do like much of his output so they would pay.

I would like to hear from people on what they think “public service boardcasting” is and should be. I have heard three conventional explanaitons

It is unbiased news – that would be good, but is clearly not what the BBC delivers, as it nearly always delivers news from the standpoint of someone who thinks more government is the answer and never the problem.

It is high class drama – but the BBC has no monopoloy on costume dramas. Some are good, and yes there may be a case for subsidy to such arts.

It is high class documentaries. Yes some of those are good, but there is too a tendency for them to be biased towards conventional wisdom. Today they may well make a good documentary about the excesses of the banks, but they are unlikely to make one about the follies of the regulator or the Bank of England, and never make one saying there is a different way to sort out the Banks from the public shareholding route chosen by the politicians so far.

So what would a public service broasdcaster look like in this multi media age? And how much are we prepared to pay for it? Should we carry on paying for it with a poll tax, or in some other way?

Let debate be joined.

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22 Comments

  1. Jim Gumbley
    Posted November 2, 2008 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Getting rid of BBC3 might be a nice start. Channel 4 and others provide good stuff commercially for the under 25 segment, and why tax a population to produce 'documentaries' about page 3 models?

  2. Stuart Fairney
    Posted November 2, 2008 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Slimming, Hmmm… would a starvation diet not be more appropriate?

    But I think it is technology not political deliberation that will end the licence fee. Increasing TV over the internet requires no licence and this is the way I believe the fee will go. That begs the question "How should the BBC be otherwise funded?"

    If I may, the very basis of conservatism as I understand it is about freedom. So make the BBC commercially self-funding or allow it to wither on the vine. NO TAXPAYER HANDOUTS

  3. E Justice
    Posted November 2, 2008 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    The BBC are very anti English,and that to me is far worse than any of the third rate "comedians"they employ.
    By numbers alone the English pay nearly all the licence fee,and are treated as if we do not exist.
    The same way the Conservatives treat the English in fact

  4. Kit
    Posted November 2, 2008 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    When I told a friend, former IPPR wonk, that the BBC should be scrapped he looked horrified and said "How would the government get its message out?!"

    The BBC should have been abolished as soon as we had multi-channel TV.

  5. Ken Adams
    Posted November 2, 2008 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    As the BBC does not offer unbiased news programmes and does not offer high class unbiased documentaries and as much of its other programming is built on and informed by its basic biased ethos, I would have thought that it was not fit for purpose as a state broadcaster.

    Therefore it needs radical reform, not just a little bit of tinkering around the edges, the prejudice needs to be stripped out of it and that means replacing or re-education of all of those who have contributed to the inherent bias, preferable without severance payment as they have obviously broken their contracts by their bias.

    If there is to be a continued licence fee, those broadcasters who are profiting from that tax money must be forced to ensure that their output fairly reflects the society that is being taxed. If over 50% of the population indicates continued antipathy to the EU for instance, as an imperative that must be reflected by the state broadcaster, and not just the positions of the narrow Westminster village.

  6. bill
    Posted November 2, 2008 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Baseline: Any channel which is able to show tv programmes without adverts is more than good in my eyes.

    Public broadcasting should entertain and inform, in equal measure but not necessarily at the same time. Little Britain is a case in point here. An avid viewer of previous series, I have been unable to watch the current batch – it goes way beyond my tastes. I wouldn't dream of complaining. The off switch or channel select on the remote are much more effective censors – which I control, not you (generic, not specific, sorry).

    I understand the market principle of you get what you pay for, but if Russell Brand was popular at £200K, why does Jonathon Ross need £6m? How much do the Dimbelby's cost, or the Little Britain team?

    I would be very upset if, for example, the iplayer service were to be discontinued, but in terms of content – who's your censor?

    Payment – I have no objection to the principle of the licence fee. Not doing it by the current model implies a subscription service, I bet it wouldn't be cheap for the BBC to move to that model – why waste the money doing so?

  7. Tony Makara
    Posted November 2, 2008 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    After the digital switchover all BBC broadcasts should be encrypted, those that pay the licence fee get a card to unscramble the signal, those that don't pay don't watch the BBC.

    The Conservative party must now seize this issue, while it is hot, and make the case for a completely reformed public service broadcaster. If the BBC is to exist then it should stop chasing ratings and start presenting quality programmes. Trash like 'Can fat teens hunt?' should go as should so-called 'edgy' comedy like 'Little Britain', on the question of 'Little Britain' would anyone have believed a few years ago that the BBC would produce, for entertainment, comedy sketches showing a transvestive vomiting into the face of a child of primary school age?

    Something has seriously gone wrong. However the BBC still doesn't seem to have learnt a lesson, with Mark Thompson already hinting at a return for Lesley Douglas and a re-packaged Jonothan Ross. The only way to reform the BBC is to completely purge its ranks and appoint people who genuinely believe in quality broadcasting. The Conservative party must lead the demand for this change, new standards of broadcasting must apply to all, they have access to millions of homes, that carries a certain responsibility. Broken broadcasting must end.

  8. john t
    Posted November 2, 2008 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Fund a reduced bbc from the lottery. bbc4 and iplayer are excellent.
    The iplayer makes the licence fee tricky – as one can download progs without actually owning a tv and thus paying for a licence. Leave the prolefeed to itv.

  9. APL
    Posted November 2, 2008 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    JR: "so the licence payer gets better value for the money we are forced to pay."

    There is no justification for the licence fee. Abolish it and make the BBC survive on its merits and the willingness of voluntary subscriptions.

    With due respect, you are no more able to judge if the BBC gives me or any one else but yourself 'value for money'. I will do that for myself, thank you.

    Jr: "The large numbers of layers of ineffective management, all on very high salaries, would be a good starting place for cuts."

    I sometimes have to pinch myself when reading this blog, is it a Tory blog?

    JR: "One of the most interesting things to come out of the Ross saga was …. Their task is no more difficult than a Cabinet Minsiters, and they show no more competence, so let’s pay them at that sort of level. "

    Ha! That takes the biscuit. Politicians & MPs have been inflating their salary claims because "it is what an investment banker in the City might get", now we are to inflate the pay remuneration of the BBC staff because they should get what an MP gets.

    It also says rather more that we want to know about a Cabinet ministers role and responsibilities.

    Frankly Mr Redwood both groups of people get far too much. Post credit crunch Britain can ill afford either.

    JR: "Surely no one can argue that what Mr Ross does is “public service”."

    Even if the sort of lowest common denominator broadcasting that Ross et al provide could be described as 'public service'. It is too expensive at £15,000,000 per year.

    A more apt way to describe such a thing is public extortion broadcasting; if you are a member of the public, or if you are Mr Ross, "god, there is one born every minute!"

    Apparently in the Telegraph today the radical Tory proposal for the BBC is to lop £5 off the licence fee. Wow, radical.

    I am afraid you people (the tory top brass) are so out of touch it is unbelievable.

    This is a gift horse, don't open its mouth. Here is an opportunity to reform ( terminology favoured by labour when they are actually advancing their Gramscian program to destroy the country) , and you are going to lop £5 off the licence fee. Pathetic.

  10. FatBigot
    Posted November 2, 2008 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    I see no reason for the BBC to continue to be supported by tax at all. At the moment we suffer from the worst of all worlds: a compulsory tax (with evasion punishable by the criminal law), no enforceable requirement of political impartiality, no enforceable quality threshold, countless advertisements for its products between programmes, bloated bureaucracy and grossly inflated wages rates.

    There is no need to have a tax-funded broadcaster to get good documentaries and dramas, most of the best stuff is already made by independent production companies. Some is commissioned by a particular broadcaster and some is sold to the highest bidder, lack of tax funding is no handicap to ITV, Sky and all the rest.

    Conditions can be attached to broadcasting licences to ensure continued free-to-air availability of channels with broad appeal.

    It is time to cut the taxpayer free from this bizarre arrangement.

  11. Chris Rose
    Posted November 2, 2008 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    I don't think there is any justification for having a Public Service Broadcaster funded by such a large compulsory levy as £139.50. I would be happier if the licence fee were £50 and the BBC made to cut its costs to suit.

    However, I would far prefer there to be no compulsory levy at all and the BBC to be funded by voluntary donations. The lifeboat service is essential for an island nation and yet there is no levy on boat owners: the RNLI is funded by the donations of those who value the benefits it provides.

    The BBC claims to be a much respected and valued organisation. If that is so, people will be prepared to donate to keep it going. If they are not prepared to pay, that must mean they don't want it: nowadays there are many alternatives.

    A public service broadcaster can provide many benefits and I hope we continue to have one, but I cannot see any need for us to have to fund the huge, high cost organisation the BBC has become.

  12. mikestallard
    Posted November 2, 2008 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    This is EXACTLY what we have been waiting for! At last some biting, sensible ideas from the conservatives! Hooray!
    Cutting the money wasted will do the job in itself. We should then let the management get on with it, independently. That is what managements do.
    Nice as it would be, the bureaucracy is not going to shrivel up and die. Bureaucracies don't do that. Instead they scream blue murder and then cut all the programmes.
    The huge, tempting danger will be to appoint someone nice and safely Conservative to run the thing. Once it becomes a political football, then I suggest the whole unbiassed thing is lost and you just get propaganda – as we do at the moment, of course, with nice, safe, Labour people in charge.
    Cut the money hard back.
    I am writing this listening to some really good, uninterrupted jazz on the internet radio. This morning, I heard the Bruges group lecture by Lord Tebbit. There was a really amusing thing from TED on too.
    You don't, actually, need the BBC any more.

  13. steves
    Posted November 2, 2008 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    the only debate is should the state be paying for public service broadcasting at all
    if so then a pot should be created for all to dip into if they qualify (my vote is no let the market provide the niches required)

    on the larger point trim the bbc to just under 1 employee and sack the rest

  14. alan
    Posted November 2, 2008 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Dear Mr Redwood.

    Thank you for this excellent article. Having read the Sunday Telegraph about the Tories plan to prune the Licence Fee I was delighted.

    Then I watched the Andrew Marr programme and heard the Director General say, in relation to the Sunday Telegraph story, that he had been contacted last evening by a member of the Conservative Shadow Cabinet and assured that the story was not conservative party policy.

    I despair that the leadership of the party cannot see how this, if it was policy, would be welcomed by every home in the land. A golden opportunity indeed. However I am now concerned that the leadership is out of touch with the people and wonder if they have any tax reducing policies at all!

    Good luck to you.

  15. Pat
    Posted November 2, 2008 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    Arts and drama were originally paid for by the audience- I see no reason why that should be different today, hence I see no reason for public subsidy (classic FM does fine even with competition from Radio 3, and without competition from a free source I would expect such programs to be available on commercial television) Indeed the present purpose of public servce art and drama programs is to produce programs that no-one would pay for- why on earth do we want to do this, especially when there are so many things that people would be prepared to pay for that can't be afforded.
    Documentaries always convey an opinion, the BBCs always reflect the "departmental view", hence with the present system the public is only presented with one world view. This prevents new ideas being properly considered and perpetuates the currency of other ideas. I am convinced that no one organisation can avoid this in its own output, whatever rules are laid down, and however hard and honestly they try- its a bit like having a court system with just a judge, no jury and no councel- however wise and honest the judge the verdict will not be impartial because he only hears the evidence he calls for and is a slave to his own world view- whatever that is.
    It should be noted that the majority of BBC documentary and arts/drama output is made in partnership with other organisations now so I see no difficulty in getting good programs made.
    News is of course in exactly the same position as documentaries are.
    I would recommend that we continue with public service broadcasting on an entirely different basis. Have a number (say three) public service broadcasting contracts each awarded to a different operator, and to the lowest tenderer. every couple of years re-tender the station with the lowest viewing figures. That way you have three different "departmental views" competing for attention and between them we get a balanced view. As a bonus, "Edgy" comedy will only appear if there is in fact a public appetite for it, and not simply because some intellectual thinks there is. It seems possible that the bill, which would be paid out of general taxation to reduce the cost of collection, might be smaller as well.
    I can hear various people complaining that this is "populist"- so is democracy, do they want to abolish that?

    • mikestallard
      Posted November 3, 2008 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      "Edgy" is a weasel word.
      If you mean "obscene" why not come right out with it?
      I do not hear on the BBC any real discussion of the following: tax cutting done sensibly; the relationship between public and private pensions and pay; the scandal of the Clinton administration giving out orders for the poor to be given mortgages against a background of legal sanctions on the banks; what exactly the Police think they are doing at the moment; why parliament is only sitting for just over 100 days next year; and, the Great Unmentionable (Common market/EU).
      I get all this stuff, myself, from the internet.
      Now that is indeed on the edge – edgy!

  16. Peter North
    Posted November 3, 2008 at 12:44 am | Permalink

    The common argument I here is that the arts would die without the bbc. We have sky arts and "4 later" was always better than the bbc. You can build in public service remit into lisencing for commercial stations and you do not need a megalithic tax funded corporate to do it. BBC news is diabolical, shallow trash and is obsessed with politicians over policy just like any other news vessel so if we are not getting better or different we have no need or desire to subsidise it.

    Furthermore, what I need to hear from tories is how you will make my life cheaper. Yesterday the telegraph ran with a sotry that the tories would cut the TV tax by £6. Whoopie do! Try £56.

    We are not impressed with your fiddling round the edges and unless the tories can make me several hundred pound better off by deregulating and slashing income tax, there is no way Im going to bother voting.

    I'm struggling to fix problems with my house, I have debt problems and I have nothing left over to save. You and you alone have the power to make me better off. Presently, the inland revenue takes £1000 a month from my household income by force under threat of jail.

    Are the tories going to slash spending and cut our taxes so that we may keep our wealth? these miserable little numbers you throw about and mealy mouthed mutterings about tax credits and sharing the proceeds of growth. You are offering nothing different to the status quo.

    What is worse is your committee and departmental meetings are nothing but chari shuffling and Ive watched you all on BBC parliament and you never talk about how we're going to keep the lights on or how you're going to let us keep our wealth. You have no impact on our lives except for making us poorer.

    And that is why we hate you and that is why I'm not bothering to vote.

    To quote Nicholas Winterton… Political parties have, in addition, contributed to the emasculation of the House through the candidate selection process in seeking only safe, amenable and malleable candidates who will do the Party's bidding on all occasions and frequently without question, whatever their own views might be.

    They must all be "on message". Individuals with a mind of their own, strong views, a real experience of life and with independent leaning are not welcome. Party officials and whips describe them as the "awkward squad", but thank goodness there are still a few who have slipped through the net and who enliven the House from time to time.

    You are all beyond the pale and we have nothing left but contempt for you all. Unless you take the power back from the EU you will remain irrelevant and powerless.

    You are are protected in the westminster bubble with privelage and monies, guarded by armed police and thats why we cant reach you to do to you that which you deserve.

    You will remain in an impenetrable bubble protected from everyday realities and hardships we all face daily, surrounded by your wannabes and yes men while the economy is going to hell, society is breaking down and we no longer have influence on how we are governed.

    We face the real possibility of power cuts, public sector strikes and increasing fuel poverty and the political classes are only interested in managing themselves and channelling funds to their cronies to build white elephant windfarms or databases.

    You have outlived your usefulness and when the bread runs out and the circus skips town, we will come for you…

    Stop pandering to the media and come up with some policies that actually matter. Give us our money back and let us be the agent of change in our lives because your "government" is incapable fo doing it for us no matter how much money you force form us, no matter how big it gets or whether the PM wears a red hat or a blue one. (Rest of rant left out)

  17. Johnny Norfolk
    Posted November 3, 2008 at 12:44 am | Permalink

    The set up of the BBC is well past its sell by date.
    Every chanel should be by subscription, so you pay for what you want.
    You could also pay per view, if that was the case just see how the BBC would change if it had to please its viewers.
    Lets put the people in a position that reduces revenue to the BBC if they are putting on what is not wanted and increases revenue if they put on things that are.

    Its the left wing bias that does me in. They should not be allowed to get away with it.

    The ammount of self advertising the BBC does in between programes may as well be paid adverts as they are both just as iritating.

  18. Michael W
    Posted November 3, 2008 at 2:08 am | Permalink

    It is outdated to be paying a levy on what is now a commonplace household device which has many uses apart from viewing BBC programmes.

    It seems wrong that the public should be subsidising the BBC to compete so broadly with commercial networks.

    I'd propose retaining the BBC Newsgathering operation (still I believe the biggest such in the world) paid for by an independent fund established from taxes, sale of BBC properties and from income from existing BBC rights. The licence fee would be abolished. The new BBC would produce and sell news stories, analysis and suchlike, and be free to access in the UK.

    The BBC World Service might be funded from the same source, or as now by grant to the Foreign Office – in any case this service needs bolstering up, I think.

    I suspect an attempt to redesign BBC management would result in a swarm of management consultants collecting huge fees and achieving little long-term benefit.

  19. Jabba the Cat
    Posted November 3, 2008 at 2:19 am | Permalink

    Put the tv side of the BBC as a pay to view/subscription service, after all if it is as brilliant as everyone claims then there will be a queue of people lined up to buy viewing cards.

    Run the domestic radio stations as commercial services, but retain the world service as a tax funded entity like eg. VOA.

    The essential part is giving the citizen choice, and doing away with the compulsory broadcast taxation.

  20. adam
    Posted November 3, 2008 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Well today for example BBC 1 is running its usual lineup. Homes Under the Hammer, Bargin Hunt and similar programmes.
    I have watched Bargin Hunt, the shows budget seems to be about £100 an episode and most of the contestants lose money. Mostly pointless and i cant see why its public service broadcasting.
    BBC 2 runs childrens television all morning and not long after it finishes for the Daily Politics and a dumbed down Working Lunch, BBC 1 takes up the bat with yet more childrens tv. Isnt Cbeebies a dedicated childrens tv channel, cant kids watch that?
    It seems to me the BBCs daytime public service is to fill the airwaves with childrens television and antique/house hunting or refurb. programmes.

    The BBC produces one show on Europe outside of a general Europe wide news roundup on the world service. However it is hidden away at 3.30 am on BBC News/Parliament channels almost as if they would rather people didnt watch it. So, by the way, is the very good Hard Talk and Straight Talk with Andrew Neil, meanwhile pap like The One Show and Eggheads recieve primetime slots.

    Where are the political programmes educating people on the EU or just their European neighbours?

    When was the last time there was a really good series on British history, or indeed history in general. There are many millions of migrants in Britain, and native Brits, who have little knowledge of UK history, they would particularly benefit for example.

    The BBC does produce great documentaries, one of my favourites is A Picture of Britain, but they are frequently relegated only to a specialist channel, BBC 4, unlike the childrens tv.
    Also once shown they are remiss to repeat them again, perhaps because they would rather sell the DVDs on Amazon. It seems a waste not to repeat excellent documentaries.

    Channel 4 at least make an effort. In the morning they run programmes about teenage issues, job hunting and career advice as well as documentaries, good ones recently included a history of British castles and another on medieval weaponary.
    I also like Unreported World which is given a primetime evening slot. I am sure if the BBC were involved it would be buried away at 2 am on BBC news.

    During the recent Manuelgate affair the 800k DG was on holiday, the 500k deputy had gone missing, possibly on holiday too and the head of operations, supposedly in charge, as far as i can tell was a no show. I dont recall seeing her in the media.

    Just a few ideas and complaints.

  21. Dick Puddlecote
    Posted November 3, 2008 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    “It is unbiased news – that would be good, but is clearly not what the BBC delivers, as it nearly always delivers news from the standpoint of someone who thinks more government is the answer and never the problem.”

    Well said John, and as Johnny Norfolk mentions above re: BBC left wing bias.

    The size of the BBC is always going to cause a problem, and rather like ‘The Westminster Village’ effect where the outside world sometimes seems like a different world entirely to those within, BBC staff seem to have been sucked into a bubble of self-perpetuating political correctness which has ended up with the organisation veering increasingly to the left.

    As the BBC doesn’t have to fight for funding with anyone but the Government, it is only the Government of the day that they need to truly please.

    If at least a proportion of the BBC’s funding had to be earned by producing programmes that accurately reflect the public’s concerns and not exclusively the Government’s, then perhaps the BBC would return a bit more to the unbiased centre where they are supposed to be.

    The litmus test of how the BBC has changed for the worse in recent years is Panorama. Once a hard-hitting and often controversial investigative show, it is now just limp, pallid and lightweight, only investigating stories that will confirm the Government’s current line on any particular subject.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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