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What would you pay for your favourite BBC Radio network, if it was funded by subscription? 40p a day? Actually that would get you all of the present BBC services today, if almost every household paid it.

It’s a theoretical question of course, but it soon may not be.

This week on Feedback I talked to the Controller of Radio 2, Bob Shennan, about the latest cuts in his network budget and the programmes he has had to cut as a result. Between 3 and 5 am in the morning during the week his network will now be running repeats. At the same time some back office jobs will go at Broadcasting House.

This is all as a result of the planned squeeze initiated by the DQF, Delivering Quality First policy, introduced by the last Director General, Mark Thompson, after the licence fee was effectively cut. The radio division was charged with finding £38 million of efficiencies, with savings helping to fund the BBC’s digital ambitions.

The then DG told me that this was the last time that such a squeeze could be applied. Next time (conveniently after he had stepped down) services would have to go. That prospect sends a shudder down the spine of most executives who remember the outcry when the Beeb tried and failed to close 6Music and the Asian network. Of course some critics in the commercial world say that the BBC is overstaffed and more economies can be found. That may be so but they tend to compare apples and pears. The airtime could be filled by just a DJ and records or more phone ins, but if you want pre planned features, reports and investigations, they require journalists and time to prepare, and are arguably what differentiates a public service broadcaster from a purely commercial one whose main aim is to make a profit.

However the new Culture Secretary has made it clear that he thinks the present licence fee is very onerous, particularly on the poorer section of society. So expect the issue of subscription to figure largely in the discussions surrounding the future of the BBC and the licence fee, although if Scotland does vote to become independent in September, the British Broadcasting Corporation as we know it will have to change significantly in any event.

Meanwhile here is what Bob Shennan told me about the immediate cuts he is implementing on Radio 2

Please do let us know what you think about these issues. After all it is supposed to be your BBC.

Roger Bolton.

Roger Bolton presents Feedback on Radio 4.

Listen to this week's Feedback

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  • Comment number 13. Posted by Nigel

    on 1 Jul 2014 16:15

    I don't have a problem with the notion of paying for the licence. Unfortunately I don't pay as I don't have a TV. I do listen to BBC radio and I do use the BBC website, but there isn't a licence fee just for these components.

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  • Comment number 12. Posted by sue

    on 30 Jun 2014 08:12

    I'm afraid there is no longer enough quality programming for me to consider taking out any sort of subscription, since radio 3 is now Classic FM at the BBC and radio four, whilst having some excellent programmes, is far too politically biased to rely upon for many subjects.

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  • Comment number 11. Posted by Russ

    on 24 Jun 2014 09:05

    BBC Radio costs £670m, or approx 20% of total licence fee income (£3.6bn). There are approximately 25m BBC licences in the UK - if every household paid for Radio, a Radio licence would therefore be about £30. The financing problem for a subscription model is that not all households would take up a Radio licence. If 50% of current households did, that general Radio licence would become £60. If the granularity is taken further, as in a Forget It's 'R3+R4+R4X only' licence, the takeup would be smaller (8m? less?), so such a licence would become correspondingly more expensive. Although cherry-picking PAYG is a superficially attractive way of demonstrating a democratic opinion on what should be broadcast, ultimately it penalises niche audiences severely. A R3-only licence for example would be £20 for its current 2m listeners. BBC local radio would be immediately uneconomic.

    The biggest fallacy of the PAYG idea is thinking you would be given a choice on what might be offered. The BBC will never offer the PAYG model for Radio - it simply isn't geared up for that kind of differentiation, and the majority of radio receivers couldn't cope with it anyway. Besides which, the encryption and administration costs would be horrendous.


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  • Comment number 10. Posted by All for All

    on 22 Jun 2014 23:41

    John Thompson @8
    "the dear old BBC"

    The things we find to fight about! A few pounds a week for the BBC, a problem for those under-75 without a living income (in lack of equal citizenship) and for those so rich as 'already' to be paying (with their taxes) for most of the services and salvage 'in this land of shirkers and free-riders', resentful of any subsidy for national conversations (as 'socialist' in a bad way).

    Even with the burden of 'political neutrality' as between Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee, truths eventually will out, whether in time another matter, even monstrous Savile a minor case compared to the on-going neglect of reason, faith and democracy. Good to see the following BBC Online News front-page tag-line: "Inequality drives rebellion."

    Leading to

    Michael Stephens, Deputy Director at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Qatar, has been shocked at 'levels of deprivation' found in Iraq, in his travels 'around the country in recent days'. He ventures to suggest that, "To dismiss what is happening in Iraq as the product of the maniacal whims of a few radical fanatics is to ignore the very real social inequality that exists in Iraq."

    Stephens writes with youthful energy, from an intensive background of Ancient History (Lon), International Relations (Lon), Political Science & Middle Eastern Studies (Galilee), Political Science & Sociology (Jerusalem), political internships, and RUSI research, with some proficiency in relevant languages (Hebrew at professional working level, Arabic limited). Clearly, he has a serious interest in constructive observation.

    It is most welcome, from such a commentator, through the BBC, to see connection of some face validity being made between the so many and various states and situations of individuals (high and low, here, there and everywhere), and the behaviour of populations and of the world as a system. The insight here is akin to that in learning about the Universal Gas Laws, discovering apparent departures of particular elemental gases from the lawful, sometimes wide, as to be understood by summing subtle differences in 'the experience' of the colliding atoms or molecules involved (from differences in the size and shape of their 'substance' and electrical fields, their restriction of each other).

    Assailed by chatter and noise, by tides and tsunamis, by cataclysm now daily, now multi-centric, perhaps soon to engulf all, holding onto insights and implications and prescriptions is bound to be difficult 'in the field': relations must be maintained with actors at all levels, and with colleagues, and of course with employers, current and prospective. Stephens finishes on a soft note: "if Baghdad cannot understand the need for political reform is as important as enforcing security, then Iraq's problems could last a very long time."

    What he means, I trust, is that until someone sets the example of equal partnership, until the idea catches on of viable rather than sham democracy, 'problems' not just Iraq's but the world's will last as long as it might take for our self-extinction.

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  • Comment number 9. Posted by newlach

    on 22 Jun 2014 18:15

    John Thompson,

    You might be interested in this week's edition of the Media Show. A man from ABC interviewed about Australian TV.

    If Sebastian Coe becomes governor of the BBC Trust (his name has been linked to the post in the papers) I am concerned that the BBC could ramp up its coverage of sport even more. I woke up today with a money-saving thought for Radio 4 - do we need a news bulletin every hour of the day when there are 4 excellent news programmes -Today, WatO, PM and the World Tonight? Also, and more generally, what about bringing in some hard-boiled business type from BBC Worldwide to oversee contracts for drama, orchestral fees and the like to ensure maximum benefit for licence-fee payers?

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  • Comment number 8. Posted by John Thompson

    on 22 Jun 2014 08:00

    In Australia you watch rubbish on the TV all the time,game shows,trivial discussion and current affairs,soaps,regurgitated films,weather programmes and last but not least,sport.I had to witness
    this bilge to come back to the shores of the dear old BBC,to realize what a quality product we have and too much tampering with it,will destroy.Like all public services(also NHS) it's being whittled away,turned into a business,made to sing for its supper,justify its reduced existence. Keep the license fee,avoid subscription or PAYG.We've seen what happened to libraries.Now
    you have to buy books,you can't borrow the ones you want.I like books anyway,but....

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  • Comment number 7. Posted by hey thats me

    on 21 Jun 2014 20:12

    40p a day is £146 a year or new winter coats for your children if you're on benefits, if you've got an argument for retaining the licence fee use it don't sound like fat cats who cock a snoop at the cheapness of things.

    My view is the BBC is far too big, the biggest public broadcaster outside China and it needs to change.

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  • Comment number 6. Posted by All for All

    on 21 Jun 2014 16:26

    How tricky it seems, still, to get things right, agreeably 'fair enough' for everyone.

    Do we care, enough of us enough to make a difference in decision-making circles? All being allowed freedom of conscience, in a society with informed agreement on equal partnership, how different might be the BBC, and our hopes in FIFA's World Cup, and our ability in general - with or despite government - to be and to share our best?

    Our history, with some misgivings and without real choice (informed and popular), has been of acceptance, as 'progress', our moving-on from in-your-ear radio to in-your-face TV, from one shared stream to multiple channels, from see-it-later to mix-your-own-choice from all over the world. Some though feel a loss - and society has perhaps lost more in togetherness than has been gained in choice - with no longer the companionship enjoyed with presenters and schedulers, perhaps vitally with fellow members of 'the audience', at the time and in shared memory, the stuff of conversation and laughter, and of important communal debate.

    Some just now in football, early out of the World Cup, are debating again the role of unequal material 'reward', the attraction with money of star players from all over the world, ambition for those home-grown - our 'national representatives' of the future - then too easily satisfied in 'just enough' support-roles, making up the numbers. Just as unfairly perhaps to personnel in the BBC, we were yesterday wondering about the role of incentives in BBC management and 'chains of influence' in programme-making, corporate and personal dependence on 'ratings' possibly the key to blind-eye tolerance of rumoured abuses of power.

    Assuming that fear and greed and corruption can be agreed as NOT the proper or indeed survivable preferences of principle for our self-governance, what we must ask could be the safeguards for dynamic quality, for inventiveness and risk-taking, in a society and in a BBC staffed by, valued by, and funded by equal citizens free to follow conscience? Secure in belonging as equal partners (in whatever roles we can sell, or compete for, or in default manage), might we turn lazy, or criminal, or - in blocs of ignorance and addiction - by 'democratic vote' command the service of all towards the most successfully compulsive diet of game-shows, action-movies, weepies and advertisements, informative and inspiring and salutary to some extent, but a cultural dead-end?

    In my experience, children (other than when unwell or troubled) all want to do well, to compete with themselves to get on, their competition with others a spur but with no thought of financial dominance over those others or future others; and so also most adults (unless ill or damaged, excluded or made corrupt) want only to do well in terms recognisable by the world, for themselves and their families and their communities. Difference in scales of 'reward', at first an embarrassment amongst friends and colleagues, in time generates burden. Squabbles attend inequality, in the personal negotiation of unending petty distractions, game-playing for salary and tax-avoidance to pay for gambling habits in 'choice' of insurances and pension schemes. Deep social regret comes at the end, in a world crumbling about us, so little of hope and pride really then to hand-on.

    Our lessons learned, when only laziness or criminality can hurt us, conscience and vocation, including that of leadership, will I believe allow - in the context of rational trust - the optimum of allocation, material and labour, for our quality and viability of civilisation, BBC funding and output happily matters for 'common sense', as in all spheres the support of both variety and balance, for cultural vitality and resilience, easily to engage or cope with those weaker or different in social perspective, even in sociopathy (3%) with intelligence (self-interest) to be called upon in most.

    In the meantime? A mean time indeed.

    Socialists-all (choosing to live in society), we find no compelling guide in any of our many degraded 'socialisms'; and as conservatives-all (thinking to adopt the better for all to be best), we find ourselves easily divided, so 'in two minds', inclined to 'stick' with what we think we know. Will there then be death by a thousand cuts?

    Unlike our silently suffering military, our captive print media, our but narrowly 'educated' teachers, and our driven to PP-distraction NHS, the BBC has a voice of sorts 'for the public', in still some formal as well as moral 'duty' to the public interest, to foster discussion of what might mean - what must in democracy define - 'the public interest'.

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  • Comment number 5. Posted by Forget It

    on 21 Jun 2014 09:33

    I'd be happy to subscribe to R3 R4 R4+
    but not the music playlist channels with their sometimes expensive DJ's.
    BBC needs to be creative outside of market needs so I'd oppose PAYG
    (I'm ready to be educated into like stuff I never considered before)

    btw 40p a day = £146 a year - which is slightly higher than I'd wish.

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  • Comment number 4. Posted by Mandy Newman

    on 21 Jun 2014 09:07

    As an "Englishwoman Abroad", I would have been more than happy to pay an annual subscription for the BBC iPlayer Radio, - a mere 4 months ago. Since the 're-vamp' (or rather the destruction) of the Radio iPlayer, I would not pay a cent. The content is more than worth paying for, however when the medium makes the product almost impossible to use, there is nothing to sell - or buy.

    I agree with @3 bonzerpeach "A PAYG system would provide direct feedback to producers, directors, announcers, researchers, journalists, actors and the rest on whether they were doing anything actually valued by the listener/viewer."

    Despite literally hundreds of negative blog posts about the Radio iPlayer, the response from the developers is defiantly arrogant. At the moment they don't HAVE to listen, because their wages don't depend on the market response.

    In my opinion, a subscription or PAYG system is the only way to sustain online access to the BBC. At present however, I don't think they have a product to sell.

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