All BBC employees, regardless of sexual orientation, were to benefit from a pounds 75 'commitment ceremony' allowance, plus a week's honeymoon holiday. However, the BBC said yesterday that it was suspending all such allowances for both homosexual and heterosexual couples.
Although the corporation claimed it had brought forward a review of all such payments, the timing of the suspension, following calls from outraged Tory MPs, points to a climb-down under pressure.
The MPs had claimed the pounds 75 'wedding' gift was an abuse of public money. With the Government's review of BBC funding still worrying senior BBC executives, one insider said: 'There may have been a feeling that the criticism had to be addressed sooner rather than later.'
Explaining the suspension, a BBC spokesman said: 'It is all part of the overall activity to modernise the benefits and conditions of service of staff.'
A statement said the BBC remained totally committed to equal opportunities, but was 'taking very seriously the concern expressed on the subject of the equivalent of marriage allowances and gifts being paid to single sex couple'. OutRage, the gay rights pressure group, called the BBC's decision a 'sad climb- down'.
Peter Tatchell, its spokesman, said: 'It's deplorable that a compassionate policy has been overturned by homophobic pressure.'
The suspension means that neither gay nor heterosexual couples will now benefit from the long-running scheme.
BBC news bulletins and other live programmes could be severely disrupted today as journalists and technical staff stage a one-day strike, writes Barrie Clement.
The corporation predicted that there would be no 'blank screens', but the management said the news service and Radio 5 would be curtailed and that coverage of the Benson & Hedges cricket quarter final in particular would be restricted.
Staff are protesting about a new employment package aimed at improving competitiveness. It would reduce the earnings of many employees and could lead to longer working hours. Managers accepted yesterday that a limited number of staff would lose about pounds 9,000 a year.
The BBC wants more flexible working methods and the introduction of performance- related pay in its attempts to compete with private-sector production companies.
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