BBC laid low by tales of state-funded high life

From wrapping paper to iPods and luxury jets, the expenses of BBC executives have been thrown open to public scrutiny

The lifestyle and pay packets of top executives at the BBC were laid bare yesterday, revealing how the Corporation's senior staff used public money to pay for everything from wrapping paper and iPods to flowers and champagne for its highest-earning stars.

Luxury hotels, a private jet and even gifts for fellow BBC staff members also appeared. Details revealing the finances of the BBC's top team also show that many were paid more than the Prime Minister, while executives spent £20,978 last year entertaining other members of staff.

Most of its 50 highest-paid executives were paid more than £200,000, with the director general, Mark Thompson, earning £647,000 a year. The lowest paid of the group earned an annual salary of at least £160,000. MPs predicted last night that the publication of the expenses would heap pressure on other public bodies, such as the NHS and quangos, to follow suit. The embarrassing documents appeared on a day that the private sector announced thousands of job losses and pay cuts, underlying the growing disparity between the public and private sectors. British Airways announced a voluntary pay cut for up to 7,000 workers, while steelmaker, Corus, said that it was cutting around 2,000 jobs.

Despite widespread anger over the claims, the BBC last night ruled out the possibility of executives repaying money. It said there had been one repayment made since 2004 in the form of a voluntary £1 donation to Unicef originally claimed as part of a hotel bill by the BBC's director of vision, Jana Bennett. A spokesman said that all other expenses had been approved by the BBC's internal auditing system and that the returned £1 would remain the sum total of funds handed back to the taxpayer.

Details of the expenses emerged after a long Freedom of Information campaign for the release of details to spell out how the BBC was using public money. The expenses will be published online every three months from now on. And further details are on the way, with around 100 BBC executives eventually being included in the process.

In a day which saw the row over the use of publicly-funded expenses shift from Westminster to White City, the BBC's base, the eye-opening list of expense claims included:

* Jonathan Ross, whose contract is said to be worth £18m, handed a £100 bouquet of flowers.

* A publicly-funded £1,137 party to celebrate Terry Wogan's knighthood.

* £99 for a bottle of Krug Grande Cuvee champagne, given as a present to Bruce Forsyth for his 80th birthday.

* Flights costing £2,200 to fly back Mark Thompson, the director general, and his family from holiday in the wake of the controversy over the prank phone call made to the actor Andrew Sachs. He also claimed £1,277 to charter a private jet to return from holiday to deal with an expenses row.

* Jana Bennett, director of vision, claimed a gift-wrapped Harrods bear costing £47.50 and a pair of engraved Tiffany cufflinks for £85.25 as a "talent gift".

* Ashley Highfield, the former head of Future Media, bought a £238 iPod "for testing with BBC services".

Other items included in dozens of pages of documents dating back to 2004 included claims from Dame Jennifer Abramsky, the former director of Audio and Music, for wrapping paper for a leaving present costing £5.96, and a £20 picture frame.

Mr Thompson was also under pressure after it was revealed that he had claimed to stay in a hotel in London. A spokesman said that Mr Thompson only did this when he was unable to commute to and from his Oxfordshire home as a result of late or very early meetings. He has claimed £77,823.35 in expenses over the past five years.

Though Mr Thompson said the BBC had published the details in order to be open with the public, he said that pay packets agreed with big names and funded by the taxpayer, including Jonathan Ross, Graham Norton and Jeremy Paxman, would remain secret.

"It has been our view that it does not make sense for the BBC to disclose individual talent fees," he said.

"Why? We operate in an industry where confidentiality is the norm in which only one of our competitors is themselves subject to Freedom of Information. There's a real danger that talent would migrate to broadcasters where confidential information about how much they are paid will not be disclosed."

The Tories hinted that they would subject the BBC to a budget squeeze in the wake of the claims. Jeremy Hunt, the shadow Culture Secretary said that the embarrassment caused over the publication of the claims, along with the prospect of a less generous financing deal under the next government, would see the lavish claims disappear.

"At this time, it's not the best time for MPs to be criticising other people over expenses, but I think what this demonstrates is that the best way to make sure people are wise to the way they use public money is transparency," he said. "The combination of that with a new negotiation over the licence fee in 2013 will put the BBC under huge pressure to be incredibly careful with its spending."

John Mann, the Labour MP who has campaigned over the publication of expenses for MPs, said last night that the BBC needed to go "further down the line" in exposing the way taxpayers' money was spent.

"The more is published, the better behaviour we will get," he said. "Everyone needs to justify what they are spending public money on. The public has a right to know. This is the start of a revolution that will spread throughout the public services."

Don Foster, the Culture spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said that "the veil of secrecy" over spending also needed to be lifted on spending by executives at Channel 4, which is publicly owned, and the industry's regulator, Ofcom.

He also called on the National Audit Office to be allowed to investigate the BBC's spending on big- name stars without revealing the value of their contracts in its findings.

Private jets and a £100 bottle of celebratory bubbly for Bruce at 80

Mark Thompson

BBC director general

Salary: £647k before he officially took up the post of director general in June 2004, Mark Thompson had already started gathering receipts for drinks and meals which he would later claim back on expenses. On 26 and 27 May, he took his two fellow executives Jenny Abramsky and Jana Bennett out for drinks. A little over a week later, he entertained his male colleagues Andy Duncan and Mark Byford but this time felt dinner would be more appropriate, claiming the meals on expenses at a combined cost of £258.75.

In his first year in the job, Mr Thompson's total expenses bill came to £10,280 – fairly frugal when compared with the £19,067 he spent in 2008-09. A significant chunk of this sum was the £2,236.90 he claimed to cover the cost of flying his family home from Sicily, after cutting short his holiday in the wake of the "Sachsgate" phone messages scandal. However, this was not the first time the director general had curtailed a family holiday after being informed of trouble brewing for his Corporation at home. In August 2004, he charted a private Cessna jet for £1,277.71 to fly him from Maine to Boston in the US, part of his journey back to the UK to deal with what his expenses form describes as an "urgent staff issue" in London.

The BBC would not go into details, but at almost exactly the same time Alan Yentob, then the Corporation's head of entertainment, drama and children's programmes, was at the centre of an investigation into his expense claims. He was later cleared of any wrongdoing. Last year, Mr Thompson claimed £99.99 for a bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée Champagne as a birthday gift for Bruce Forsyth. He also spent £945 on an office Christmas dinner in December 2005.

At the other end of the scale Mr Thompson – who has a chauffeur-driven car provided for him by the BBC – put through hundreds of small claims for costs incurred at parking meters. One was as small as 23p.

Jenny Abramsky

Former director of audio and music

Salary: £314k*

Dame Jennifer, who retired from the BBC last year, spent more than £2,500 on celebratory dinners for two staff members. In 2005, Sir Terry Wogan's award of a knighthood was cause for a £1,137.55 celebration. A further £1,406.41 was spent on Sir Nicholas Kenyon's leaving party. An unnamed staff member who left the BBC after 25 years of service received a slightly less lavish bash; Dame Jennifer claimed £100 to cover the revelries.

Licence-fee payers will also be cursing the former director of audio and music's bad luck – she was forced to claim more than £100 after eight taxis and executive cars that she had booked failed to arrive. The BBC picked up tabs of nearly £600 for her stays in Italian hotels, £70.78 for champagne and a £129 first-class upgrade on a train journey. Ms Abramsky also claimed £40 for returning from holiday to deal with an unidentified "issue" and £28.45 for a "private meeting regarding personal matter". She also registered a number of smaller claims, including £26.99 for a plant, £20 for a picture frame and £5.96 for wrapping paper.

* Dame Jennifer's salary was not released as she has retired. Her successor, Tim Davie, is paid £314,000

Expenses total: £20,858.07

2008/9: £1,422.95

2007/8: £5,710.99

2006/7: £4,727.32

2005/6: £4,210.46

2004/5: £4,786.35

Erik Huggers

Director of future media and technology

Salary: £310- £340k

Mr Huggers spent more than £2,500 on a three-day trip to Las Vegas in January, during which he stayed at the luxury Bellagio casino. In February, he enjoyed a £469 trip to Barcelona. He also spent £44.99 on DVDs to research a story on Pixar, the digital animation company, and £150 on a Christmas meal. A "hotel evening meal plus tip plus refreshment" in January this year came to £33.55.

Zarin Patel

Chief financial officer

Salary: £329k

Ms Patel put £6,153.88 on expenses last year, and has claimed more than £23,000 since 2004. Over the years, she has claimed £1,383.81 for an away-day dinner for finance staff, and £702.84 on entertainment for Deloitte staff as a "thank you" for their work on a business plan. Last year, she claimed £414 for attending a Proms event followed by a dinner. But unlike other members of the BBC executive team, she was frugal in her use of taxis – last year she only claimed for five.

Ashley Highfield

Former director of future media and technology

Salary: £310-£340k

The BBC's former director of Future Media and Technology bought two iPods and charged them on expenses.

The first was purchased in October 2005 for £238, to allow him to "test BBC video services". This was followed by an iPod Touch (£217) in September 2007, with the same reason cited.

Mr Highfield, 43, who was in charge of the BBC's iPlayer when it was successfully launched in 2007, also claimed £237.37 for a "thank you". In 2006/07, he went to Las Vegas twice, to Los Angeles three times and to Seattle, San Francisco and Cannes once each.

He charged £1,430 for a meal for 29 people at the luxury Bellagio casino hotel in Las Vegas, which was justified with the phrase "subsistence group meal after 11 hours' duty".

Tim Davie

Director of BBC Audio & Music

Salary: £647k

Mr Davie claimed £100 on two bouquets of flowers and nearly £50 for coming "back on a different train to the one booked on". In 2008/09, his total expenses claims came to £6,689.88, including £5,218.99 for wining and dining. In October 2005, he spent £500 on "hire of room for meeting", but no further details were given. In the same year, he spent hundreds of pounds of the corporation's money on parking fees. In 2006, a marketing meeting for the charity Sport Relief cost £143.43.

John Smith

Chief executive, BBC Worldwide

Salary: £380k

The chief executive of BBC Worldwide, John Smith, spent £115 on a lunch to "discuss the efficiency programme" in 2004. He also claimed £1,287 for a dinner following a BBC Worldwide strategy away-day. There are also seven separate mysterious claims for "Road/Bridge Tolls" for £100 each. When contacted, the BBC said these were aggregated claims. They said no fines for the congestion charge appeared on any expense and added: "These represented tolls added together and submitted as one claim."

Mark Byford

Deputy director general

Salary: £459k

Mr Byford was the most frugal of any of the BBC executives who have been in their jobs for the past five years, claiming a total of £13,849. However, he spent £14.99 on a book on the history of Queen's Park Rangers football club in September 2007. Last year, he claimed £14 on a taxi to meet singer Michael Ball. Mr Byford is clearly a sports fan, as his trip to see the Scotland v England rugby match on 8 March 2008 shows: Taxis and a train journey cost almost £30, but it appears the the price of his ticket was met by himself or another party.

Caroline Thomson

Chief operating officer

Salary: £328k

The corporation's Chief Operating Officer, was one of a number to claim for flowers, spending £45 on one occasion. In September 2007, she spent more than £200 on a leaving do held at her house, which she described as "cheaper than a restaurant". She also, from the claims, appears to be a big user of taxis. Last year she claimed £1,319. Mainly this was for travel between meetings including one which reads: 'Late running meeting in evening'.

Jana Bennett

Director BBC Vision

Salary: £406k

The director of BBC Vision is a generous woman. She spent £100 on a single bouquet of flowers for Jonathan Ross, which she later claimed back on expenses, and in total her flower bill came to £1,900 over five years. The notes accompanying her expenses file state that "Ms Bennett purchased flowers, champagne, food items, pens, or items such as DVDs to present to presenters, actors and other production talent as a BBC gift to recognise a particular achievement, such as the end of a successful series, the winning of an award, or the birth of a new baby." In July 2004, Ms Bennett spent £231.55 on a dinner to "discuss Jeremy Paxman's contract". She also spent £47 on lunch with Andrew Marr, while in 2006 she put £55 on external hospitality "to discuss BBC/Jonathan Ross deal". In what appeared at first to be a heartwarming show of generosity, the BBC picked up the tab for a £500 insurance claim after Bennett's handbag was stolen while she was on official business. But yesterday, a spokesman said: "When Jana Bennett's handbag was stolen on BBC business she had to put in an expenses claim to get the insurance to cover it. It was the insurance policy that covered the cost in the end – not the BBC." Almost £115 was spent on "industry lunches" and "catch-ups", while other claims included a £25.70 bottle of champagne, two Harrods bears for £85.17 and three books on world history costing £26.66. Ms Bennett spent £30.25 on a Big Ben teapot and teabag rest. The accompanying notes class this as a "low value" souvenir, explaining that such purchases fell under the duties of her role, which involves travelling to meet other broadcasting executives. Over the five years Ms Bennett claimed a total of £59,636.73.

Expenses total: £59,636.73

2008/9: £8,478.19

2007/8: £16,839.50

2006/7: £9,887.67

2005/6: £13,228.17

2004/5: £11,203.20

BBC top brass: What they earn

Mark Thompson Director General £647k*

Mark Byford Deputy Director General £459k*

Timothy Davie Director Audio & Music £314k*

Jana Bennett Director BBC Vision £406k*

Zarin Patel Chief Financial Officer £329k*

John Smith Chief Executive BBC Worldwide £380k**

Caroline Thomson Chief Operating Officer £328k*

Peter Salmon Director BBC North £370k - £400k

Alan Yentob Creative Director BBC Finance £310k - £340k***

Erik Huggers Director Future Media & Technology £310k - £340k

Helen Boaden Director BBC News £310k - £340k

Sharon Baylay Director Marketing £310k - £340k

Balraj Samra Director of Vision Operations BBC Vision £280k - £310k

Pat Loughrey Director Nations & Regions £280k - £310k

Richard Sambrook Director BBC Global News £280k - £310k

Dominic Coles Chief Operating Officer BBC Journalism £250k - £280k

Jay Hunt Controller BBC One BBC Vision £250k - £280k

Roland Keating Director of Archive Content BBC Vision £250k - £280k

Daniel Cohen Controller, BBC Three BBC Vision £220k - £250k

Ed Williams Director of Communications Marketing £220k - £250k

Janice Hadlow Controller BBC2 BBC Vision £220k - £250k

John Linwood Chief Technology Officer £220k - £250k

John Yorke Controller Drama Production BBC Vision £220k - £250k

Julie Gardner Head, Ind Drama Commissioning, Nations & Regions £220k - £250k

Nicholas Kroll Director BBC Trust £220k - £250k

Richard Deverell Controller, BBC Children's, BBC Vision £220k - £250k

Roger Mosey Director, BBC Sport £220k - £250k

Andrew Parfitt Controller, R1/1Xtra/Asian Network, Audio & Music £190k - £220k

Andy Griffee Editorial Director, Project W1, Operations £190k - £220k

Anne Morrison Controller, Network Production Nations & Regions £190k - £220k

Chris Day Group Financial Controller BBC Finance £190k - £220k

Chris Kane Head of Corporate Real Estate Operations Group £190k - £220k

Dorothy Prior Controller Production Resource BBC Finance £190k - £220k

Emma Swain Head of In-House Commissioning BBC Vision £190k - £220k

Graham Ellis Controller Production Audio & Music £190k - £220k

John Vickerman HR Shared Services Director BBC People £190k - £220k

Liam Keelan Controller BBC Daytime BBC Vision £190k - £220k

Mark Damazer Controller Radio 4 & Radio 7 Audio & Music £190k - £220k

Mike Goodie Director Employee Relations & People Strategy BBC People £190k - £220k

Nicholas Eldred Group General Counsel & Secretary Operations Group £190k - £220k

Peter Horrocks Director World Service £190k - £220k

Peter White Chief Executive Officer BBC Digital UK £190k - £220k

Richard Klein Controller BBC Four BBC Vision £190k - £220k

Robert Shennan Controller Radio 2 & 6Music Audio & Music £190k - £220k

Roger Wright Controller R3 Audio & Music £190k - £220k

Stephen Mitchell Head of Multimedia Programmes BBC News £190k - £220k

Tom Archer Controller Factual Production BBC Vision £190k - £220k

George Entwistle Controller Knowledge Commissioning BBC Vision £160k - £190k

Jonathan Beazley Controller Entertainment Production BBC Vision £160k - £190k

Nicolas Brown Director Drama Production BBC Vision £160k - £190k

Data refers to basic salary (including London weighting, excluding allowances); information correct as at 7 May 2009. Excludes information on staff within commercial subsidiaries – BBC Resources Ltd, UKTV, BBC World and BBC Worldwide Ltd

* Base salary for members of the Executive Board as published in 2007/2008 Annual Report & Accounts.

***Alan Yentob's salary is the full-time equivalent of his pro rata salary for reduced hours.

** John Smith's salary has been fully funded by BBC Commercial Businesses since 1 September 2006. He is included here as he sits on the BBC's Executive Board

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