The way the UK’s national broadcasting service – the BBC – is funded, we are often told, is unique.
Which it plainly is.
The notion that every television receiver has to have an accompanying Licence, and the income from that Licence funds everything the BBC does, is distinctly unique.
I need to pause here to say that I am not uncomfortable with the concept of having a public tax to pay for the BBC!
I am, however, deeply uncomfortable with the business model that HMG operates around the Licence fee collection process.
Deeply uncomfortable on two points:
The first flaw in the logic is the example of a person owning a television receiver that is hooked up to a satellite dish, that they only use to watch Spanish (or whatever foreign country you prefer) television â€“ because, under our unique BBC funding model, that person must still pay the television Licence.
If you own a television that is technologically capable of receiving tuneable signals, you have a legal obligation to pay the annual television Licence – because one day you might watch something on a BBC channel.
But the reality of the situation is that even if you never watch a BBC product, you must pay the Licence fee.
So, in a nutshell, the Licence fee is a tax, because there is no ducking or dodging it.
And because it plainly is a tax, this leads me to the second point that makes me so uncomfortable:
Bizarrely, the Licence-fee monitoring/collection department costs £123 million to run.
That’s £123 million *a year*, to collect an independent stream of taxation.
One has to take a step back from this peculiar situation and ask the obvious question, ‘Why?’
Why is the BBC spending £123 million *a year* to collect a tax?
OK, I’ll admit that the revenue that is collected through this tax goes to the BBC and not to HMRC, but once again, the question ‘Why?’ surfaces?
Why does anyone think that spending £123 million *a year* on collecting a tax that, frankly, almost every household in the UK *has to pay* is an economical method of generating an annual income stream?
The Licence fee generates £3.4 billion a year, so spending £123 million a year might look like a worthwhile expenditure to someone in the BBC and/or HMG, but I really can’t agree.
If the BBC needs to trim its expenditure, why is it not giving the annual spend of £123 million it costs to collect Licence fee income from tardy payers, a long, penetrative and searching stare?
Is it beyond the whit of someone in HM Treasury to look at this situation, and come to the staggeringly obvious conclusion that the best plan would be to stop spending £123 million a year collecting another taxation stream?
Is it beyond our national capability to save £123 million a year by attaching the £3.4 billion it costs to fund the BBC to our national income tax?
Is this so very unreasonable?
Is ‘not wasting money’ such a bad idea?
This peculiar situation is a mirror of the Road Fund Tax: The simplest way of collecting that revenue would be to attach a very small portion to the price of a litre of fuel.
Is all of this thinking so bad that only I can see the benefits, whilst being too close to my own logic to see any of the flaws?
Or is HMG so caught up in established funding models, that they are unable to see the obvious improvements that sit outside their comfort zone?
Answers on a postcard please, because I’m finding it difficult to believe that we’ve got any of this right.