BBC pay-off row: Jeremy Hunt says BBC Trust is 'under review' as corporation chiefs defend £25m in staff pay-offs

Furious Tory MP blasts ‘the most bizarre game of whack-a-mole I’ve ever seen’ as seven senior BBC staff past and present appear before the Commons Public Accounts Committee

The BBC Trust chairman and his predecessor, a former Director-General and four other senior figures in the corporation have been accused of playing a game of “whack-a-mole” as they attempted to blame each other for years of excessive redundancy packages funded by the licence fee.

In unedifying and acrimonious scenes in front of MPs on the Public Accounts Committee, the BBC’s former boss Mark Thompson clashed with his old colleagues on Monday by insisting that the BBC Trust – the corporation’s governing body – had been fully aware of his plan to pay his former deputy Mark Byford £1m in a severance deal.

But his account was disputed by the current Trust chairman Lord Patten and the man who made way for him, Sir Michael Lyons, who both claimed they had no idea the settlement was larger than that to which Mr Byford was contractually entitled.

Jeremy Hunt, the former Culture Secretary, increased the pressure on the corporation on this morning by telling the Today programme that the BBC Trust is "under review".

"It is a matter for my successor to decide on [the Trust], but I think both she and I have always said that the BBC Trust is under review. It hasn't been perfect from the time it was set up," he said.

It also emerged during Monday's grilling that Mr Byford was informed of his settlement by the BBC’s human resources department – even before it had been signed off by the corporation’s remuneration committee.

The chair of Public Accounts Committee Margaret Hodge told the executives that the contradictory accounts they presented had been a “grossly unedifying occasion” which could “only damage the standing and reputation of BBC”.

She added that at best the evidence the committee had heard demonstrated “incompetence” at the top of the corporation – and at its worst showed “people covering their back by being less than open”.

Chris Heaton-Harris, a committee member, compared the meeting to a fairground game, saying it was “the most bizarre game of whack-a-mole” he’d ever seen, “where you hit one fact down and it throws up other questions”.

Turning to the witnesses, he added: “I just wonder if one of you would like to take responsibility for this?”

The BBC has been heavily criticised for paying £25m to outgoing executives, £2m more than its contractual obligations.

Much of the evidence session on Monday concentrated on the pay-off given to Mr Thompson’s close colleague Mr Byford, who was paid around £1m to leave the BBC in 2010.

But rather than follow the letter of his contract, Mr Byford was paid to work out part of his contractual notice period – and then given a year’s salary on top as part of his settlement.

Mrs Hodge said that under the terms of his deal, Mr Byford could have been paid off with £500,000. But Mr Thompson stressed that the extra money was to ensure that Mr Byford remained focused on his job until he left and “wasn’t worried about his future and taking calls from headhunters”.

Mr Thompson insisted the settlement represented good value for money and had been fully agreed with Marcus Agius, the former chairman of Barclays who at the time was the head of the BBC’s executive board remuneration committee.

Mr Agius, who was also before the committee, agreed he had backed the payment on value-for-money grounds, but Ms Hodge told him: “I think we’re astounded that you took that view.”

She added: “The shareholders of the BBC are the licence-fee payers and I cannot for the life of me see how you can justify these levels of redundancy payments.”

Mr Thompson also said that the payment to Mr Byford had been made with the full knowledge of the BBC Trust chairman, Sir Michael Lyons.

But Sir Michael said he “never understood” that Mr Byford would be receiving a redundancy package beyond that to which he was entitled by his employment contract.

Mr Thomson retorted: “Well how do you think we got to £950,000 then?”

In another flare-up, the BBC trustee Anthony Fry told MPs that the Trust got “pushed back time and time again” by BBC executives.

“I had the distinct impression that our views were not being taken with the seriousness they deserved,” he said.

The deputy chair of the committee Richard Bacon MP said he had come into the hearing “agnostic” about the current structure of BBC governance, but had come to the conclusion that the system was “broken” and should be abolished and replaced by regulation from Ofcom.

But the current Chairman on the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, said this would not solve the fundamental problems at hand, saying: “I can’t imagine handing the regulatory power to Ofcom and Ofcom wanting to be involved in remuneration.”

He added that the current system of governance could be made to work with different personalities at the helm. Summing up the three hour session Ms Hodge questioned whether they had learnt anything from the contradictory accounts.

“Have we got any wiser? I don’t know,” she said.

“At best what we’ve seen is incompetence, lack of central to control, a failure to communicate for a broadcaster whose job is communicating. At worst we may have seen people covering their backs by being less than open. That is not good.”

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all