BBC 'talent' pay kept secret but executives' costs revealed

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Details of BBC executives' expenses claims were revealed on the same day that the corporation said fees for individual stars will remain a secret.

But director general Mark Thompson said the BBC will go further in opening up the information it gives to the public, in what he described as a "major step change".

Last autumn it was decided that the BBC would be committed to regular routine publication of all the expenses incurred by members of the executive board.

Mr Thompson said: "In recent weeks, both the BBC Trust and the executive board have strongly encouraged us to look at whether we could - and should - go further in our practice of routine disclosure."

Mr Thompson said that in future the BBC intends a breakdown of pay, by name, not just for executive directors as now, but for two other groups - the top 50 earners in BBC management and the top decision-makers, "those with the greatest responsibility both for spending public money and for overseeing the BBC's services and operations".

He said the total number of managers involved is around 100 people beyond the executive board.

The BBC is extending its publication of expenses to everyone in this group of about 100.

Each quarter, it will publish full line-by-line expenses for each, as well as their hospitality and gift register.

But on the matter of talent, Mr Thompson said: "It has been our view that it does not make sense for the BBC to disclose individual talent fees.

"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.

"But we recognise that the public have a legitimate interest in how much the BBC spends on talent, including top talent - and moreover that they have every right to hold us to account for actually delivering on that commitment to reduce the amount of the licence fee which goes on top talent.

"In future, we will disclose the total amount we spend on talent as a whole, and we will work on a plan to make our spend on talent more transparent so the public can monitor the direction of travel over time."

Mr Thompson said in the speech in Manchester: "Public expectations about openness, trustworthiness and every kind of value for money are becoming more trenchant, more insistent and more vocal than ever before."

The BBC will continue to publish a table of pay of the whole senior management population at the BBC by salary band in its annual report as well as a table of its wider staff costs.

Mr Thompson said: "Taken together, we believe that this package of disclosure represent a very significant advance in openness at the BBC and will place the BBC where it should be, which is at the frontier of disclosure practice in the public sector.

"It is what the public want - indeed what they demand - but I believe that in the end it helps rather than hinders the task of building a BBC which really respond to them and inspires them with great programmes and services."

Earlier this month, the corporation's top talent were called to a meeting where they were told to expect their pay to be slashed.

Jeremy Clarkson and Sir Terry Wogan were said to be among about 100 famous presenters at the gathering.

For some highly paid stars, the salary reduction could reportedly be as much as 40%.

A hard-hitting MPs' report also said recently that confidentiality agreements between the BBC and top radio stars were preventing full scrutiny of the way the corporation spent public money.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said the BBC appeared to be paying some of its radio presenters more than twice what commercial stations paid theirs.

The BBC refused to give the National Audit Office (NAO), the public spending watchdog, a breakdown of presenters' salaries for a selection of radio shows unless the NAO signed a non-disclosure agreement, the committee said.

Mr Thompson emphasised that the entry level for a BBC presenter was not "£6 million a year".

He said: "In fact, the overwhelming majority (of) our talent who work with us to help inform and entertain the public are paid pretty modestly.

"We issue around 250,000 artists' contracts each year.

"The average value of a contract is less than £1,000.

"But it's true that we do employ a small number of people who earn a great deal."

The BBC has already slashed 7,200 jobs and 1,200 more are still to be cut.

The corporation plans to make savings of £1.9 billion over the current licence fee period.

Last October, sources said the BBC had banned staff from putting champagne claims on expenses.

Staff from the corporation put in claims for around £48,000-worth of bubbly in the previous year.