Birt criticised over claims of pounds 50,000 salary increase: BBC Director-General plunged into renewed controversy

JOHN BIRT, director-general of the BBC, was yesterday plunged back into controversy by allegations that he has negotiated a pounds 50,000 increase in his salary and has still not kept his promise of nearly two months ago to become a member of staff at the corporation.

In a speech last night, Marmaduke Hussey, chairman of the board of governors, promised a 'new approach' to help the governors 'carry out their public service role more effectively'.

But last night Mr Hussey and Mr Birt found themselves targets of criticism after press claims that the director-general is negotiating a salary approaching pounds 195,000.

This would be an increase of pounds 50,000 on what he was paid as deputy director-general and pounds 35,000 higher than his predecessor, Michael Checkland, who left last December.

'It is almost as though those responsible for this, namely Marmaduke Hussey, have a death wish for the BBC and are in love with bad and damaging publicity,' Roger Bolton, national officer for Bectu, the broadcasting union which has 12,000 members at the BBC, said. 'They seem to be out of touch with the feelings of ordinary licence payers.'

The BBC has told staff it expects to follow the Government's 1.5 per cent public-sector pay guideline. The BBC said last night that the figures quoted for Mr Birt were 'untrue', but refused to disclose his salary.

The effect of the salary increase, along with the corporation's continued inability to put Mr Birt on the staff, has led some observers to conclude that the rise is compensation because the BBC has stopped paying him through his private company, John Birt Productions.

That Mr Birt has still not become a member of staff was 'astonishing and incredible', one senior figure close to the board of governors said. 'If he said he was to become a member of staff one day, his status should have changed within the week.' Mr Hussey is chair of the remuneration committee, which sets the salary of the director-general.

Sources close to Mr Birt said the delay in going on to the payroll was because of bureaucracy and was causing him frustration.