The pay of high-earning BBC stars such as Graham Norton and Gary Lineker is to come under fresh scrutiny in a review by the BBC Trust which will look at how the costs compare to commercial rivals.
The review of the broadcaster's £200 million annual bill for on-screen “talent” will determine whether licence payers are getting value for money.
The BBC has 250 performers and presenters earning more than £100,000 a year according to its latest annual report, including 14 who made over £500,000.
The BBC refuses to identify the individuals but the big earners are understood to include stars such as Jeremy Paxman and Fiona Bruce.
The review will benchmark BBC salaries against those offered by commercial broadcasters. The corporation insists it has to pay high salaries to stop its stars being poached. Susanna Reid recently defected to ITV after signing a £1 million deal to anchor its revamped breakfast TV show.
The BBC said it had reduced its talent pay bill by 13 per cent since the last study five years ago. The Trust will assess whether the BBC has struck the right balance between reining in costs and holding on to its most valuable stars.
However the review is likely to prove inadequate unless it includes the sums paid by the BBC to production companies owned by star names.
Figures from Companies House shows that Graham Norton received a total of £2.61 million in “presenter fees, production fees and royalties” from his production company So Television in the year ended July 2012, for presenting BBC1’s The Graham Norton Show and hosting his Radio Two Saturday programme.
The BBC has also promised to stop paying big names through “personal service companies” that can attract a lower rate of tax. Jeremy Paxman, Fiona Bruce and Emily Maitlis are believed to be paid in this way but signing on as a staff member could involve a substantial real-terms pay cut.
A BBC Trust spokesman said: “'We are always seeking to balance saving money with ensuring the BBC has the range and quality of on-air and on-screen talent that audiences expect. This review will inform our work with the BBC and help ensure we have the right approach in place.”
BBC estimated talent salaries
- Graham Norton: £2.61m
- Gary Lineker: £1.5m
- Jeremy Clarkson: £1m
- Jeremy Paxman: £1m
- Fiona Bruce: £500,000
- Michael McIntyre: £500,000