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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future