John Whittingdale Replaces Sajid Javid As Culture Secretary

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BBC licence fee opponent John Whittingdale is named in David Cameron’s first post-election cabinet

Prime Minister David Cameron has named John Whittingdale, a former private secretary to Margaret Thatcher, as the new minister for Culture, Media and Sport – raising questions about the future of the BBC licence fee which has been ‘top-sliced’ by the government for broadband rollout.

Whittingdale has been the chairman of the Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee since 2005 and replaces Sajid Javid, who has been made the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Cabinet reshuffle

John Whittingdale 1Under the previous coalition government, the Tories pressed ahead with the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme which provided public funding for the rollout of fibre in areas not considered commercially viable. Any funding received by local authorities had to be matched, while BT also contributed financially to the project.

So far, more than two million homes and businesses have been connected as a direct result of BDUK and the party’s manifesto for the General Election outlined its ongoing commitment to deliver superfast broadband to 95 percent of the UK by 2017 and universal coverage by the end of the decade.

BDUK has been part-funded by the BBC licence fee, but Whittingdale has been a vocal opponent of the fee, having called it “worse than the poll tax.” The BBC’s royal charter, and the licence fee, is due for renewal but Whittingdale has reportedly said the licence fee will not be abolished during the upcoming charter period.

He expects the fee to remain until at least 2026, when it could be replaced by a cheaper compulsory fee, with citizens able to pay extra for additional services. The BBC could also be subject to the National Audit Office (NAO) and Channel 4 could be privatised, according to The Guardian.

The cabinet reshuffle follows the Conservatives election victory last week. The party’s manifesto also outlined plans to make the UK “the technology centre of Europe” and a leader in 5G development.

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