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Conservatives launch attack on BBC licence fee proposals

LONDON – The Conservative Party has attacked the BBC over its plans to increase the licence fee to over £200 a year by 2016 saying the proposals amounted to a 'stealth tax'.

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Theresa May, shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, said: "Yet again another Labour stealth tax will hit the poorest in Britain. This is the latest in a long line of of Gordon Brown's stealth taxes, and this time it is the licence fee payer who will have no choice but to foot the bill."

She also criticised the BBC for asking the public to bear extra costs "without making sufficient savings elsewhere", citing the £330m figure it will cost to move the corporation's Children and Sport departments to Manchester.

Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, former Commons Media Select Committee chairman, said has also spoken about the proposed price hike, saying he has "strong reservations" about it.

"The BBC's share of the TV audience is going to fall steadily over the coming years, thanks to the ever increasing number of channels and services on offer. In short, fewer people will be watching BBC television -- so why should they have to pay more for it?" he said.

Kaufman added that he does not see the government agreeing to the corporation's proposals for the licence fee to be raised by inflation plus 2.3%.

"Historically, the government has varied the increases from year to year, and I wouldn't for a moment assume automatically that this time it will give the BBC what it wants," he said.

The licence fee currrently costs viewers £126.50 a year and gives the corporation £2.94bn a year to spend.

BBC director-general Mark Thompson and chairman Michael Grade yesterday outlined how much money the BBC will need from 2007 and have calculated a rise in the licence fee of £3.14 a year excluding RPI.

Taking current inflation, which is at 2.5%, this means the licence fee could in fact soar to £183 by 2012 and £210.50 by the end of the 10-year charter in 2016.

The government will decide on the proposals next year when the BBC's 10-year Royal Charter is up for review.

The extra money would be ploughed into digital switchover and new technology so all licence fee payers can access BBC content when the analogue signals are switched off from 2008. Digital switchover is expected to be completed by 2012.

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