Page last updated at 17:50 GMT, Monday, 16 March 2009

Freeze licence fee, says Cameron

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David Cameron: 'Tories will freeze TV licence fee'

Conservative leader David Cameron has called for the BBC licence fee to be frozen for one year.

He said it was up to the corporation and other public bodies to "set an example" by keeping costs in check during the economic downturn.

Mr Cameron stressed that he supported the BBC, which he called "a fantastic cultural asset" which had to "prosper".

But the BBC Trust said the proposal would mean 80m in unplanned cuts, which would "damage" programming.

Colour TV licences, currently 139.50 a year, are to rise by 3 from 1 April. Black and white licences will increase by 1 to 48 a year.

Speaking at his monthly press conference, Mr Cameron said the freeze should happen immediately.

'Makes sense'

He added: "The government made its decision in 2007, in quite different circumstances, to set out in the increase in the licence fee for years ahead. I think the situation has changed since then...

"[It was made] on the basis that the BBC needed to keep up with the rising [advertising] revenues for other broadcasters...

"I think it makes sense now to review the situation and that we need to freeze the licence fee this year."

He also said: "We are not cutting it, just freezing it."

It is a signal to the public sector that nothing should be taken for granted and that he, Mr Cameron, is willing to say no
Nick Robinson
BBC political editor

He added that he was a " supporter of the licence fee", but argued that, with declines in revenues for channels funded by advertising and subscriptions, it was important to avoid creating a system which was "not in balance".

He said: "The BBC is an important national institution. I want to see it prosper and succeed and be a fantastic cultural asset."

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said Mr Cameron was "planning for today's headlines instead of the future of the BBC".

He said that if he "really wants to help families he should back our cut of 5 a week off the average household VAT bill" rather than using the BBC as a "political football in this way".

Liberal Democrat culture spokesman Don Foster said: "It's a sad reflection of the Tory party that the best it has to offer taxpayers in the economic downturn is 3 off their licence fee.

"With many viewers staying at home a lot more during the recession, it really doesn't seem the right time to be cutting the quality of our television programmes."

BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons told BBC Radio 4's PM programme: "On the face of it, it [Mr Cameron's call] seems a fairly modest proposal.

"What it would take out of the budget this year is about 80m on a completely unplanned basis."

This was the equivalent of Radio 4's budget for the year, he added.

Sir Michael said the BBC's own planned efficiency savings of 3% a year had been planned so they did "not damage" programmes.

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