Lord Hall: The Director-General who pledged to clean up BBC told to return cash

MPs tell Tony Hall to pay back £24,500 he received when he quit for Royal Opera House in 2001
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Tony Hall, the BBC Director-General, is under mounting pressure to pay back the £24,500 in additional pension contributions he received when he resigned from the corporation to lead of the Royal Opera House 12 years ago.

It has emerged that Lord Hall, who has vowed to crackdown on a culture of excessive pay-offs at the corporation, was given the bonus payment when he left his £204,000-a-year job as BBC head of current affairs in 2001. He quit the BBC to become chief executive of the Royal Opera House, on what is believed to have been a higher salary, after losing out to Greg Dyke in his bid to become Director-General.

MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have now called on Lord Hall to return the money, which was paid on top of what the BBC was required to pay in his contract. They asked why he did not disclose the payment when he was grilled during a session on BBC pay-offs in July. Questioned over the £25m which was paid to 150 outgoing executives, including £2m on top of contractual obligations, Lord Hall told MPs: “We’d lost the plot. We’d got bedevilled by zeros on salaries.”

MPs will raise Lord Hall’s pension payment when Lord Patten, the BBC Trust chairman, and Mark Thompson, the former Director-General, appear before the PAC on Monday in what promises to be a stormy session.

Stephen Barclay, a Conservative member of the committee, said the payment revealed Lord Hall had “benefited from the very culture he has pledged to reform and is another example of executives signing off generous pay-offs that they would benefit from in the future”.

Mr Barclay questioned why Lord Hall had not disclosed that he had been the beneficiary of “this lax pay-off culture.”

Ian Swales, a Liberal Democrat PAC member, called for the extra payments to be repaid, since the money had come from the public purse.

The BBC’s accounts for 2001 show that Lord Hall received “an additional contribution of £24,539 to his pension arrangements on leaving the BBC”, which he received after securing his new position at the Royal Opera House.

The additional payment is believed to be the balance for the added years of pension bought by Lord Hall and would have been authorised by Mr Dyke, who was his line manager at the time.

Former senior BBC executives including Roly Keating, the BBC’s former head of archive content, have returned all or part of their pay-offs.

This evening it also emerged that  BBC has been ordered to disclose to the PAC the names of scores of senior managers who received severance payments between 2006 and 2012.

The committee invoked a rarely used standing order to force the disclosure and the BBC, which has long argued that data protection issues meant they could not make the names public, has now written to the individuals to warn them that their severance packages could be made public. 

The group is believed to include former BBC1 boss Peter Fincham, who reportedly got a £500,000 pay-off when he left the corporation in 2007 in the wake of a scandal sparked by misleading footage of the Queen. On Monday the committee will hear evidence from Mark Thompson, the former Director-General who left the corporation last year for The New York Times. On Thursday, Mr Thompson accused the current BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten and trustee Anthony Fry of “misleading” the PAC.

Mr Thompson said he had emails which show that Trust members, including Lord Patten, approved a tranche of the payments, including a £949,000 deal for the departing deputy Director-General Mark Byford.

He said: “The insinuation that they were kept in the dark by me or anyone else is false.” Lord Patten said he was “looking forward” to coming back before the committee next week and had “no concerns” about what Mr Thompson has said.

Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP and former Culture Secretary, called for the BBC Trust to be scrapped. The corporation should be regulated by Ofcom instead, he said.

A BBC spokesperson saud: "In 2001, Tony Hall received a discretionary contribution towards his pension when he left the BBC. This was not part of a severance deal and was declared in the Annual Report for that year."