BBC accused of sidestepping scrutiny of spending decisions

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The Independent Online

The BBC Trust is able to select the subjects put forward for value-for-money audits of the BBC, in arrangements that are "anomalous and untenable", the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has said.

In its review of BBC spending of £3.5bn a year of public funds, the PAC said it had been able to find out enough about BBC operations "to be concerned about the BBC's record of spending public money without fully analysing costs and benefits".

The committee questioned BBC arguments that the market was responsible for driving up salaries of its presenters and criticised it for agreeing confidentiality agreements with stars. The PAC chairman, Edward Leigh, also criticised its "use of editorial necessity as a rationale for some spending decisions, thereby placing them beyond value-for-money considerations".

The terse comments reveal the committee's frustration in attempting to get to grips with BBC finances during 12 value-for-money inquiries into various aspects of the BBC, all selected by the governing body, the BBC Trust.

"The BBC is currently immune from being properly held to account for its spending of billions of pounds of public money," said Mr Leigh in a statement issued alongside the PAC's report published today.

"The current arrangements for value-for-money audit of the BBC, under which the BBC Trust selects the subjects for examination and decides what information it will allow the National Audit Office and this Committee to see, are anomalous and untenable," he stated.

The PAC clashed with the BBC Trust, which refused to grant it access to information without a guarantee that it would not be made public. Mr Leigh said that that was "a discourtesy to Parliament". He added that government plans to wait six years to reform the system when a new BBC Charter is introduced in 2016 were "unacceptable".

The Trust said it had a duty to "safeguard the BBC's independence from Parliament" and that the auditors had been given sufficient access.