The BBC’s independence is fragile and has been sustained by political and civil society commitment. Until 2007 it rested on a Charter and Agreement lasting at least 10 years (covering at least two parliaments); a licence fee set every 5 years in what was an increasingly transparent way; “Nolan”-principles appointments to the Board of Governors (now Trust); and, to provide clarity to licence fee payers, the whole of the licence fee funding BBC services, collected, since 1991, by the BBC itself. Sadly, that didn’t last.
First, we had the raid on the licence fee to deliver digital switchover, a Government policy bringing a State windfall from selling spectrum. The BBC received £200 million of ring-fenced funds for a marketing programme and £603 million in the January 2007 licence fee settlement to 2012-13 to fund the help scheme to assist those whom the Government deemed needed assistance. The rot had set in. Then we had broadband roll out, funded from the surplus of the digital switchover moneys, then the atrocious last minute “austerity” deal of 2010 which lumbered the BBC with foreign policy and security objectives (the World Service and monitoring) and further broadband spend.