We would like to thank everyone who responded to the Programme for Government and particularly those with comments relating to issues that are top priorities for the Department. All the comments are valuable to us and will help inform the way we work to improve our country and public services.
We received many comments about the BBC and the Television Licence Fee.
It was good to see that many people were very happy with the service the BBC provides and supported its continued independence. We agree and are committed to an independent, strong and successful BBC that is the cornerstone of British broadcasting.
However there were other comments where many people were concerned that the BBC does not represent value for money. People also commented that the licence fee is too high and that they would like an opt-out fee if they didn’t watch the BBC. The current licence fee settlement ends in 2012-13 and we will begin discussions next year about its renewal. No decisions about the level of the licence fee will be taken ahead of that however, like all other public organisations, we expect the BBC to demonstrate that it is operating efficiently and giving licence fee payers value for money. We will also give the National Audit Office full access to the BBC’s accounts.
There were many comments concerned with the lack or a reduction in religious broadcasting on television. We would like to reassure people that under the terms of the Communications Act (2003), public service broadcasters are obliged to broadcast a suitable quantity and range of programmes dealing with religion. Furthermore, one of the BBC’s six Public Purposes is to represent the UK, its nations, regions and communities. In achieving this, the BBC must take into account the importance of reflecting different religious beliefs. However we do believe that is for the broadcasters to decide what makes up their schedules, without any political interference.
Several people were concerned with the lack of mention of **arts funding or support for the Arts Council **in the programme document, with most asking for an indication of the Government’s position to supporting the arts. On this issue we can confirm that the Government is wholly committed to a strong future for the arts. We are looking at stronger incentives to promote and strengthen philanthropy including better recognition for donors. We believe that a mixed economy, with public and private investment, Lottery funding and successful commercial activities will best protect the sector in these tough economic times and in the long term. Putting the economy back on its feet is in the interests of all our sectors - particularly the arts and culture sectors which receive significant amounts of private finance.
We are already restoring the National Lottery to its original good causes, which will boost the share going to the arts by around £50 million a year by 2012.
We also received comments on the Live Music Bill and the 2003 Licensing Act. All comments asked for the repeal of some restrictions on live music. We recognise that the licensing regime may deter certain venues from putting on live music and we are committed to cutting red tape around this and possibly other types of performance such as street theatre. We want to do this as quickly as possible, but we think there may be broader and more radical solutions than those being suggested already. We will, of course, consult those who may be affected by any new proposals, and ensure that we do not remove necessary protections for local residents and businesses.