BBC faces row over big bonuses to bosses

Nearly 4,000 jobs are to be cut over the coming months as the director-general, Mark Thompson, seeks to save £355m in the run up to charter renewal.

Staff unhappiness at the way cuts were handled led to a 24-hour strike in May, in which many of the corporation's best-known faces stayed away, including Natasha Kaplinsky and Jeremy Paxman. Further action was avoided when management agreed to talks with staff.

The payments to BBC top brass will be unveiled when the corporation publishes its annual report on Tuesday. Last year payments to the 16 members of the executive committee totalled £866,000.

Senior executives may be paid bonuses of up to 30 per cent of their salaries, although it is thought to be unlikely that Mr Thompson - in his first full year in the job - would take a large payout at a time when he is presiding over such large-scale cuts.

Any excessive bonuses are bound to upset staff and unions at such a volatile point with morale at the BBC at a lowpoint. Last year, Alan Yentob, the director of drama, entertainment and children's programmes, was among those who received a hefty bonus of around £50,000.

The annual report is understood to reveal the BBC is spending £62m on a restructuring process as it absorbs 3,780 job losses from its present staffing level of around 28,000.

BBC Three is believed to be among the few departments which will come in for criticism, with governors broadly supportive of the BBC's senior management. Although the channel is given credit for growing comedies such as Little Britain - which has now transferred to BBC One - governors are believed to want the channel to focus on more serious news, current affairs and drama.

BBC Two is expected to win praise for largely ditching its reliance on lifestyle shows under new controller Roly Keating, the man who brought Jerry Springer - The Opera to the channel - the most complained-about programme ever screened by the corporation.

The report is expected to show that the proportion of households with TV licences has fallen for the first time in living memory, dropping 0.3 per cent to 97.4 per cent, The Observer says. It comes in spite of a continuing effort to clamp down on licence evasion.

BBC One was given a rough ride by the governors last year, in particular for dropping shows that failed to shine straight away rather than giving them time to grow. But this year's assessment is expected to show that the station has turned a corner with a move upmarket, as evidenced by such programming as the recent Africa season.

The BBC is understood to have spent £2.47bn on programming last year, £100m up on the previous year partly due to the cost of broadcasting the Olympics from Greece. BBC income is understood to have risen by £142m to £2.94bn, the bulk of which has come from an above inflation rise in the licence fee.