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Culture Secretary confirms top-slicing of license fee

Money will be used to replace ITV regional news service.

The Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw has confirmed that licence fee money would be used to pay for replacement ITV regional news service should Labour win the election.

"Top-slicing" - the redirection of part of licence fee income to other broadcasters - has proven a controversial issue and was not included in the Digital Economy Act or the Labour party manifesto.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4's The Media Show yesterday, Bradshaw also restated his plan to dismantle the BBC Trust, which he said was holding back the corporation's ability to defend itself from attacks from the Conservatives and the Murdoch press. The Conservatives - who have also vowed to scrap the BBC Trust - are opposed to the ITV replacement regional news service.

Bradshaw asserted that "We do not need to legilsate to use a fraction of the licence fee to fund regional news on ITV. The only bit of the bill we lost was giving Ofcom the power to distribute the money. We will have to return to that if we are going to use that as the mechanism.'

He further added: "We already have the biggest intervention in the market in Europe in the form of the licence fee. It has never been exclusively the property of the BBC either by legislation or by practice. Where does it say anywhere in the legislation or charter that the BBC has exclusive use of the licence fee?

"We are in a new world. The public cares deeply about regional news on ITV and they also care deeply about children's programming which is in real crisis in this country.

"We already spend 3% of the licence fee now not on the BBC but on digital switchover because we have agreed that is a public good. It seems to me to make absolute sense post 2012 to continue to ringfence that portion of public money to secure these things that the public wants. If someone comes up with a better idea we are still open to it."

Bradshaw argued there were "many people in the BBC if you speak with them privately they agree with our policy". "It's easier to defend the licence fee in the long term ... if the BBC doesn't insist on keeping it exclusively to itself."

"I'd far rather have BBC management that was proud, robust, going out there fighting the Murdochs, fighting the Tory party, fighting the enemies of the BBC and free to do so and not looking over their shoulder at the trust.

"The BBC should be able to defend itself and I wish the BBC defended itself better. I know many people in the BBC who wish the BBC did a better job of defending itself."