TV licence 'faces cut unless BBC rebuilds trust' - Shapps

New Broadcasting House Image copyright PA
Image caption The BBC has faced criticism over pay-outs to top executives and the Jimmy Savile scandal

The BBC could face a cut in the TV licence fee or have to share it with other broadcasters unless it rebuilds public trust, a Tory minister has said.

Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps told the Sunday Telegraph the broadcaster must be "more transparent" and change its "culture of secrecy".

The current £145.50 annual fee would be "too much" without reform, he said.

A BBC spokesman said transparency and freedom from political pressure were key to the BBC's future.

Mr Shapps' comments come after negative publicity over pay-outs to top executives and the handling of the Jimmy Savile scandal.

Numerous allegations against Savile, who presented programmes including Jim'll Fix It during a long career at the BBC, emerged after his death in 2011 and police have since described him as a "prolific, predatory sex offender".

Mr Shapps also mentioned the case of former BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall, who is currently serving a prison sentence for a series of sexual assaults on young girls.

'Question of credibility'

Mr Shapps said the BBC was in danger of "frittering away" public trust.

"They have ended up working in this culture which is buried in the last century, which is 'we are the BBC, we do what we like, we don't have to be too accountable'.

"But they are raising £3.6bn through the licence fee, which is a tax, and, quite rightly, the public wants to have sight of how the money is spent. Things like the pay-offs have really caused concern, as have, obviously, things like Savile and Hall and the culture that goes around that. I think it is one of too much secrecy," he said.

BBC director general Lord Hall should consider opening the corporation's books to full inspection by the National Audit Office (NAO), publishing all expenditure over £500 - including stars' salaries - and opening up to freedom of information requests, he said.

With the current royal charter allowing the BBC's licence fee coming up for renewal at the end of 2016, Mr Shapps also indicated he would consider changing the system which sees the broadcaster receive all of the money raised through the licence fee.

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Image caption Mr Shapps urged the BBC to be "much more transparent"

There were "lots of different ways" the money could be used to fund public service broadcasting, he said.

There was also a "question of credibility" for the BBC over whether it applied "fairness" to its reporting of politics, Mr Shapps added.

A BBC spokesman said: "Mr Shapps is right that transparency is key to the future of the BBC. So is its freedom from political pressure.

"The BBC and the BBC Trust actively encourages the public to tell us what it thinks of our services and help us police our own guidelines. On TV and radio they personally hold its executives to account."

He said in 2012, the corporation dealt with more than 1,600 freedom of information requests and volunteered information on hundreds more.

It has appeared in front of 16 parliamentary committees in 2013, and the NAO already has full access to the BBC's operations except its editorial decisions, he added.

In July, the BBC was criticised by the National Audit Office for paying out £25m in severance to 150 senior BBC managers, and risking "public trust".

Earlier this month the BBC's director general Tony Hall promised the corporation would have a closer relationship with its audience in future, treating them as "owners" rather than licence fee payers.

'So predictable'

Shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman said it was "absolutely wrong" for Mr Shapps to make his comments.

"He's the chair of the Conservative Party, it's not come from the Secretary of State for Culture Maria Miller," she told BBC's The Andrew Marr Show.

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Media captionLabour's Harriet Harman says the BBC should "hold out" against any pressure that could compromise its independence

"He's using the fact we're heading into a charter review and licence fee review in order to put pressure on the BBC because the Conservatives are trying to somehow blame [them] for having to report the government is not succeeding in so many ways.

"Some of the Tories are against the BBC because it's a public corporation - they have never liked it and they see any opportunity to give it a good kicking.

"The BBC have given that opportunity with the extortionate high salaries and the way they handled Jimmy Savile, but it is still a massively important organisation and the government should support it."

Former BBC director general Greg Dyke also told Marr that Mr Shapps's comments should not be taken seriously.

"This is so predictable - 18 months from an election and the government decides to start pressuring the BBC," he said.

"It's an attempt to intimidate the BBC which is what governments do, and it's the BBC's job to resist.

"Two or three things have happened that have been pretty unpleasant for the BBC, but that doesn't mean the whole of what the BBC stands for should be threatened."

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