BBC support for Birt ebbing away

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The Independent Online
Support for John Birt, Director-General of the BBC, appeared to be ebbing last night as he fought to keep his job in the face of revelations about his financial and tax arrangements. As a Labour MP called for his resignation and 64 others signed a motion criticising his management, not one member of the board of governors came to his defence.

David Winnick, MP for Walsall North, said: 'There is a growing feeling both in political circles and I am sure within the BBC that the best course of action would be resignation.' A Commons motion deploring BBC job losses as a consequence of Mr Birt's rationalisation plans was signed by 64 MPs.

At least two governors have spoken out anonymously against Mr Birt, without specifically calling for his resignation. Alasdair Milne, a former director-general, said: 'Birt has no understanding of the BBC if he thought he could get away with this.'

The governors will discuss the question at their meeting on Thursday but it is unlikely that they will call on Mr Birt to resign. It would be hard for them to do so, seeing that Marmaduke Hussey, the chairman, and Lord Barnett, the vice-chairman, knew of the arrangement by which Mr Birt was not on the staff of the BBC but gave his services as a 'consultant' employed by his private company.

The pressure on him to go could become irresistible if there are any more revelations about his financial affairs. This week it has been learned that his wife, Jane, was paid pounds 14,000 as a director of John Birt Productions and a further pounds 15,000 for secretarial assistance. Yesterday the Independent revealed that his company accounts had been audited illegally.

It also emerged yesterday that Michael Henshaw, owner of the firm of accountants that audited the accounts, was discharged as a bankrupt on Monday.

However Roger Gale, chairman of the Conservative backbench media committee, came to Mr Birt's defence and called the 'hounding' of Mr Birt a disgrace.