BBC man apologises for plan to 'disguise' £100k pay

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A "reward director" for the BBC has apologised over attempts to fudge figures showing the public how many members of staff earn more than £100,000.

Robert Johnston, whose own total pay is £196,550, suggested that those responsible for releasing the data could "deliberately disguise" the number of bosses on six-figure salaries, according to emails seen and published by The Times.

But in a statement released through the BBC, Mr Johnston admitted he was wrong.

He said: "With hindsight, I realise this suggestion was wrong and I apologise if it called into question the BBC's commitment to openness and transparency."

Mr Johnston was involved in proposals to reformat information showing people earning less and more than £100,000 into brackets covering £80,000 to £110,000 - an idea that was rejected by the BBC.

Mr Johnston is said to have written of the reformatting suggestion: "We are sticking to the salary bands... aren't we... and we are doing it to deliberately disguise the number in the over £100k band?"

The corporation said the reformatting idea was raised before the BBC's Direction Group (BDG), which is responsible for ensuring that the organisation meets its aims across the BBC. But the proposal was thrown out straight away.

The BBC said in a statement: "This proposal was raised at BDG but was immediately rejected.

"The BBC will continue to publish salaries in the already established bands as ruled upon by the Information Commissioner's Office.

"In fact, the BDG has taken a series of decisions that has led to the BBC disclosing more executive salaries than any other public body."

The BBC said it has 382 staff on salaries topping £100,000.

It lists Mr Johnston's job on its website as being "responsible for the policy and direction of all matters relating to compensation and benefits for all BBC employees.

"He provides information, advice and guidance that covers pay, bonuses, benefits and pensions."

The BBC has faced several calls for greater transparency over the salaries it pays, particularly to on-screen talent.

Culture select committee chairman John Whittingdale branded Mr Johnston's actions "absolutely outrageous".

He told The Times: "This is public money and they should be totally transparent."