Switchover 'depends on licence fee outcome'

Mark Thompson

BBC director general Mark Thompson has warned the Government that the UK's digital switchover could end in failure unless the corporation is granted an adequate licence fee settlement. In a speech yesterday Thompson said: "We can't do everything. We can't rob existing core services to pay for switchover." Thompson said the BBC's current licence fee bid could be reduced to inflation plus 1.8% from 2.3% if Ofcom dropped plans for a spectrum tax on the BBC over the next licence settlement period.

"Few people outside the industry have registered the scale of task—or the scale of the money required. This is a project of great size and intricacy. The risks are formidable. If it is under resourced it will fail. It's a simple as that—and the failure will impact on many millions of households," Thompson said in a speech at the Smith Institute.

"If all that was wanted in the new charter was a steady-state BBC with the same line up of services and the same level of quality, we could deliver that well within our current resources. "If you want a BBC which does no more than it is currently doing, then a budget that reduces in real terms—RPI-minus—is the right settlement."

Thompson said the BBC needed additional funds in order to fulfil obligations set out in the Government's white paper on the corporation's future. In that white paper culture secretary Tessa Jowell said the BBC needed to lead Britain's transition to digital-only television.

Thompson added: "Historically the most powerful argument for a relatively long settlement has been a guarantor of the BBC's independence. Digital switchover will take place over the next seven years ... The BBC's mission over the next seven years is crystal clear in the white paper. There is a powerful case for settling the BBC's funding for the same period."

Lovelace Consulting  |  11.10.2006

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