Give viewers shares in the BBC, Jowell urges

By Tony Hudson

Licence-fee payers should be handed a stake in the BBC by becoming its shareholders, Tessa Jowell has proposed.

The former secretary of state for culture, media and sports called for the BBC to be transformed into a publicly owned mutual in order to ensure more accountability and responsiveness.

Her call came in a collection of essays about the state of the economy compiled by thinktank ResPublica.

It argues a radical structural shift in the economy is needed in order to effectively combat the sluggish recovery.

The mutualisation of the BBC was one of a number of proposals within the collection designed to spark an "ownership revolution" on the scale of Margaret Thatcher's 'right to buy' scheme.

"By making the BBC the country's biggest mutual, with 26.8 million licence fee payers as its shareholders, we would bring greater accountability and responsiveness to secure its future in the 21st century," Jowell said.

She emphasised the importance of "democratic ownership, user voice, and equity" in her support for an increase in mutuals, which she claimed would fill gaps left by the market and the state.

Jowell, who quit frontbench politics after the Olympics last year, claimed the BBC felt remote from the lives of ordinary people despite its status as a cherished national institution.

The proposals within the collection echo the sentiment of David Cameron's 'big society' agenda and pushes for the government to encourage workers in the private and public sectors to form mutuals in order to aid what its authors described as a "broken" economy.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude embraced the call to expand 'ownership' and insisted the coalition was already taking steps to begin the transformation.

He said £10 million was on offer to help public servants set up mutuals and claimed their number had increased sevenfold since 2010.