The Conservatives have said they will scrap the BBC licence fee at the next opportunity – if they are still in government.
Unveiling a £2bn budget cut for the public broadcaster, culture secretary Nadine Dorries said that this year’s funding announcement “will be the last”.
The BBC’s charter comes up for renewal in 2027, and Ms Dorries made clear on Sunday that she wants to use that opportunity to abolish the fee.
Instead, the UK should “discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling” television programmes, she argued.
“This licence fee announcement will be the last. The days of the elderly being threatened with prison sentences and bailiffs knocking on doors, are over,” she said.
The culture secretary is expected to freeze the annual cost of a television licence at £159 for the next two years, with 5.1 per cent inflation expected to put this in line with a real-terms cut of £2bn in the corporation’s finances.
The Mail on Sunday reported that Ms Dorries was also considering taking the cuts further by pegging future fee increases to below inflation between 2024 and 2027.
This would have a further real-terms impact on the BBC’s budget.
The government is currently locked in negotiations with the corporation over the settlement, and is expected to make an official announcement soon.
Some Tories have long been opposed to the BBC on ideological grounds, arguing that television should be privately run and not in the hands of the public.
An ally of Ms Dorries told the Mail on Sunday that she believes “the days of state-run TV are over”.
“It is not yet clear whether the future will be share ownership or subscription, but there will be no more licence fee renewals as long as Boris is prime minister,” they said.
Lucy Powell, the shadow culture secretary, said: “The cat is out of the bag. The prime minister thinks those reporting on his rule-breaking should pay consequences, whilst he gets off free.
“We haven’t seen the full details of the licence-fee deal, as it’s been leaked to the media before parliament. The anticipated five-year deal needs to be fair to the licence-fee payer while there’s a cost-of-living crisis, but also ensure the BBC is able to continue to do what it does best: making great programmes, providing local news, educating our children, and underpinning our creative industries in every part of the country.
“The prime minister and the culture secretary seem hell-bent on attacking this great British institution because they don’t like its journalism. British broadcasting and our creative industries are renowned around the world and should be at the heart of Global Britain.”
Liberal Democrat culture spokesperson Jamie Stone described the licence-fee freeze as a “stealth cut” that would put services, including local radio, at risk.
“This latest Tory attack on the BBC threatens to destroy a service which is respected around the world for its high-quality content,” he said.
“What’s worse, there is no clarity about the future, and threadbare funding will only further chip away at our cherished national broadcaster.
“Our world-leading creative industries support thousands of jobs, but Nadine Dorries only cares about trying to silence unfavourable headlines.
“The government must stop this reckless ideological crusade and back off our BBC.”