Focus on BBC licence fee as Cameron hands Whittingdale Culture role

John Whittingdale, the new Culture Secretary, arrives at 10 Downing Street
John Whittingdale, the new Culture Secretary, arrives at 10 Downing Street
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The appointment of veteran Tory MP John Whittingdale as Culture Secretary could herald major changes to the way the BBC is funded and governed.

As the chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee for the past decade it is a brief that he already knows inside out.

He has made no secret of his belief that the licence fee - which provides the basis of the BBC’s funding - is in need of reform, having described it as “worse than the poll tax”.

It suggests that negotiations for the renewal of the BBC charter, which will now begin in earnest, could see far-reaching change at the corporation.

Appearing last year on a Bafta panel, Mr Whittingdale said that in the short-term the licence fee was in need of “tweaking” to sort out what he described as “anomalies”.

In particular, he questioned whether it could continue as a “flat rate poll tax”, regardless of household income.

In the longer term - over the next 20 to 30 years - he suggested that it would prove “unsustainable” altogether.

A graduate of the Conservative Research Department, Mr Whittingdale has been bound up in Conservative politics since the 1980s.

In 1988 he became Margaret Thatcher’s final No 10 political secretary and carried on working for her out of office until he was elected as an MP in his own right in 1992.

His chairmanship of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee brought him to public prominence in the last parliament as it investigated the phone-hacking scandal.

Most dramatically, the committee took the rare step of issuing summonses to compel Rupert Murdoch and his son, James, to appear before them.

He has, however, since been critical of Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into press standards, accusing him of having provided a platform for anyone who wanted to “kick the press”.