Chancellor warns BBC of “sharp fall in income”

George Osborne and Stephanie McGovern The chancellor spoke to Salford staff in a session hosted by Stephanie McGovern

The chancellor George Osborne has warned the BBC could suffer a "very sharp fall in income" in the future as viewing habits change.

"The big challenge is that how many of our children are going to own traditional televisions in 10 years' time," he said during a question-and-answer session at BBC North.

"I don't have an answer to this question but that is a big question for the licence fee, which is quite a traditional tax levy on people who own a television. And are we really going to be able to levy a tax on people who own a laptop or an iPad? The answer is no.

"If I was the director general and his team, that would be definitely something I would be thinking about.

"It's not going to be problem this year or next year or the year after, but jump forward to 2020 and suddenly it could be a serious problem for the BBC; you could get a very sharp fall in income."

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I think on issues like immigration and Europe there was a small "l" liberal bias”

End Quote George Osborne Chancellor of the Exchequer

He added: "It's heretic to say this at the BBC but I'll say it, the Treasury regard you as a taxpayer-funded public body and so you have to be accountable for that money.

"It is in fact a tax. You have to make sure you spend it wisely and show how it's been spent."

National asset

The chancellor was giving the second annual lecture in memory of the late Today presenter Brian Redhead at the end of the BBC News Festival, which held its first sessions in Salford on Thursday.

In an event hosted by BBC Breakfast correspondent Stephanie McGovern, he said he was more sympathetic to the corporation compared to other Conservative party members, adding that it was "a great national institution and one of our great national assets".

But he described the BBC as previously being "slow" to wake up to public concern over certain issues.

"Like all organisations, you have to watch for group-think. You could say the same is true for Parliament and politicians [...] but I think on issues like immigration and Europe, there was a small "l" liberal bias."

However he added: "To be honest the BBC perhaps is sometimes overly keen on bashing itself up when it has made a mistake and I think the BBC has looked with quite a lot of rigour at those things."

Salford success

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To keep that escape from London's gravitational pull going, you need to keep your rocket boosters firing”

End Quote George Osborne Chancellor of the Exchequer

He also urged TV news editors to consider whether headlines should always lead with stories that have "good pictures", adding that even though they may be "more entertaining" that didn't necessarily mean they were the right story for the top headlines.

He said: "In the run-up to the general election, for example, with a week to go, your 10 o'clock news bulletin headlines are really important in how people are going to vote in that general election."

The chancellor, who is MP for the Cheshire constituency of Tatton, described the BBC move's to nearby Salford as "a spectacular success", and said that it was good for the corporation and audiences to have a non-metropolitan perspective of the country.

He added: "You've got to keep [the BBC in] Salford going, and the task of everyone from the director general downwards is to make sure senior jobs stay here, and I think you're absolutely right to move more departments here. To keep that escape from London's gravitational pull going, you need to keep your rocket boosters firing."


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