BBC chief threatens to sack executives who miss targets

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BBC chairman Michael Grade yesterday warned that the corporation's executives could be fired if their department failed to meet performance targets.

BBC chairman Michael Grade yesterday warned that the corporation's executives could be fired if their department failed to meet performance targets.

The BBC is currently drafting "service licences'' for all of its channels and services, setting out specific budget, remit and performance targets.

Asked what would happen if a department failed to meet these requirements, Mr Grade replied: "You fire people.''

Speaking at the Oxford Media Convention, he warned that funding could be taken away from failing channels and services.

As chairman, Mr Grade does not have direct responsibility for hiring and firing executives, which is the domain of the director general Mark Thompson. But he made it clear that the board of governors could put pressure on the management to penalise those who failed to make the grade.

"I don't fire the controller of BBC1 or the controller of Radio 3 or whatever service. I hire and fire the director general. That's it. But if there's a problem with a service, the director general has a conversation. You request and then you require."

Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, also speaking at the convention, suggested that the Government is considering establishing the BBC by an Act of Parliament rather than its current 10-year rolling Royal Charter - an idea put forward by the Commons Select Committee on Culture and Media in its recent report on the future of the BBC.

She also spelled the end of a BBC governance system "more suited to some kind of patrician government".

She set out three other systems of governance that could be introduced when the BBC's charter is renewed in 2006.

The first of these, the option the BBC is pressing for, is to keep the existing board of governors but to make its workings more transparent.

At the other end of the spectrum, the BBC could be overseen by an external body - Ofcom or an Ofbeeb - focusing purely on regulation and acting as a "court of appeal'' beyond the BBC.

The third option is the idea of a BBC trust or commission which would embody BBC values and guard the licensee, but exist separately from the BBC's management structure.

Mr Grade urged the Culture Secretary to include a "governance protocol" in the BBC's next charter, enshrining the independence of the BBC's governors from its management.

Mr Grade also said he wanted corporate-style oversight of Britain's public broadcaster including a virtual shareholder meeting open to the millions of households whose TV licence fees provide nearly all of the BBC's funding.

The BBC board of governors "is working on plans for a virtual AGM [annual general meeting] enabling every licence-payer who is interested to debate and interrogate the BBC's performance over the previous year," Mr Grade said.

"It's clear the governors represent the interest of the BBC's licence fee-payers, the BBC's shareholders if you like, and there are something like 24 million of them."