Huge payoffs for Birt BBC cronies

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The Independent Online

The BBC director-general, Greg Dyke, is trying to prevent his first annual report being overshadowed by revelations of huge payoffs to top BBC executives. More than £1m of licence-payers' money has been paid to a handful of bosses loyal to his predecessor, John Birt, who have left the BBC for other jobs. The details were to be revealed in next month's annual report, but Mr Dyke now plans to release them earlier.

Matthew Bannister, a Birt acolyte, is said to have negotiated a particularly good deal which will include a one-off payment of about £233,000: the equivalent of his 2000 BBC salary and bonus. His large income reflected his promotion to chief executive of production under Lord Birt. He was then sidelined by Mr Dyke, but continued to receive his old salary.

When he left the BBC he joined Trust the DJ, a music management business backed by a venture capital company, Lynx, chaired by Lord Birt.

The leaving deal for Tony Hall, former head of news and now executive director of the Royal Opera House, will also be included in the figures. His settlement will reflect his 2000 salary and bonus of £247,000 and is expected to be augmented by a huge pension payout.

Lord Birt's strategy chief, Patricia Hodgson, who earned £209,000 in 2000, also left the BBC last year to head the Independent Television Commission. His head of press, Colin Browne, whose salary was £224,000, left to join a financial PR company. Payoffs to both executives are expected to be included in the figures.

Mr Dyke cracked down on BBC employees eating croissants and taking taxis, but appears unable or unwilling to curb the huge handouts to top executives when they leave. "They all have these terms written into their contracts," a BBC spokeswoman said.

Last year's annual report revealed that Lord Birt had secured a "termination payment" of £328,400, plus a large pension and his salary, putting his earnings in his final year at nearly £800,000.

One huge payoff will not make it into the report. Margaret Salmon, Lord Birt's head of personnel, who presided over many job cuts, will see her leaving deal, put at close to £500,000 when pension supplements are included, recorded in next year's annual report. BBC insiders say she was persuaded to stay until the beginning of this financial year so that the total payoffs this year would look "less monstrous".