BBC chiefs urged to hand back bonuses

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The Independent Online

Members of the BBC's executive board, made up of heads of department, received bonuses worth nearly 25 per cent of their salaries last year - up more than 2 per cent on the previous year, the corporation's annual report shows.

They came at a time when the BBC was planning to cut 3,780 jobs in public service broadcasting and outsource thousands more.

The National Union of Journalists and the broadcasting union Bectu have called on the executives to follow the example of the director general, Mark Thompson. He waived his right to a bonus of up to £135,900 in recognition of the uncertainty felt by staff at the cuts he is imposing on the BBC.

The report, published yesterday, also revealed that bonus payments to members of the BBC's executive are to be reduced from a maximum limit of 30 per cent of base salary to 10 per cent. But critics pointed out that the reduction was countered by a rise in the basic salary paid to BBC chiefs of up to 10 per cent.

The NUJ's general secretary, Jeremy Dear, said: "These people should be ashamed of themselves. Managers at the BBC should not be rewarding themselves at a time when staff fear for their jobs.

"We welcome Mark Thompson's decision not to take his bonus, but the rest must follow suit."

Gerry Morrissey, assistant general secretary of Bectu, said: "People should not be rewarded for putting thousands of people out of work. We will ask the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, to investigate what the justification is for paying such huge bonuses at a time when the BBC is supposed to be cutting back."

The director general's annual salary is £560,000 - more than three times Tony Blair's £184,000 wage packet, and considerably more than the basic salary of £452,000 he received in his last full year as chief executive of Channel 4.

As Mr Thompson only joined the BBC in June 2004, his total pay package for the year to 31 March was £459,000.

The deputy director general, Mark Byford, received the highest bonus, £92,000, bringing his total pay to £457,000. The chief operating officer, John Smith, received a bonus of £72,000, bringing his salary to £387,000; the human resources chief, Stephen Dando, was paid a bonus of £65,000 out of a £313,000 salary; while the director of television, Jana Bennett, was paid a total of £334,000, including a £63,000 bonus.

Michael Grade, the BBC chairman, insisted salaries and bonuses were much lower at the corporation than in the private sector. He said: "It's important for licence payers that we attract and retain the best talent that we can. We are in competition with some very wealthy competitors in the private sector."

Mr Grade admitted that the decision to replace lifestyle and entertainment shows on BBC2 with more arts and current affairs programmes had come at the cost of falling audiences.

The channel's weekly audience fell by 3 million to 34 million in 2004-2005, partly as a result of losing The Simpsons to Channel 4.