BBC defends £36m expenses bill

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The Independent Online

The BBC has rejected claims that the £36m it spent on hotels and air fares last year was a waste, insisting the sum reflected the cost of making programmes.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the corporation spent £19.5m on flights and £16m on hotel accommodation in the 12 months to December 2005.

Separate figures show that the director general, Mark Thompson, claimed more than £21,000 last year, including £10,500 on hospitality and £4,000 on overnight accommodation. Despite earning more than £500,000 a year, Mr Thompson even claimed back £8.75 he had spent on a meal in a motorway café in January 2005 and £1.75 for a phone call.

The BBC is under fire for doubling up on the number of journalists it sends to cover events, for example dispatching George Alagiah to Jerusalem when the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, was taken ill, despite having a correspondent, Jeremy Bowen, stationed in the city.

John Beyer of the campaign group Mediawatch said: "The failure of the BBC is to explain where all the money goes. They do owe it to the viewers and listeners to be a bit more transparent. The figure of £36m would bear greater scrutiny."

The BBC's travel policy insists on the lowest cost travel, the use of no-frills carriers where possible and accommodation in a standard single room.

In a statement, the BBC said: "In the course of producing nearly 400,000 hours of programming on radio and television each year, programme makers, contributors and journalists have to travel across the UK and across the world. This is part of the cost of making programmes for any broadcaster. To ensure value for money, the BBC has stringent guidelines on the use of hotels and flights. Programme making accounts for the overwhelming majority of hotel and travel costs in an organisation such as the BBC with output as diverse as Doctor Who, which is made in Cardiff and on location, and news coverage of events such as Hurricane Katrina."

A BBC spokesman pointed out that Mr Thompson had the highest expenses at the corporation because policy decrees that the most senior executive present foots the bill for hospitality. The spokesman added that programme budgets were being slashed by 15 per cent over the next three years as part of a cost-saving plan.