The public's money pays for silence

The BBC has spent £28m in the last eight years ensuring that people who leave will not speak out

Share

It's paradoxical that figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the BBC, an organisation dedicated to disseminating ideas and promoting freedom of speech, has spent £28m in the last eight years ensuring that people who leave will not speak out. So-called "compromise agreements" have been signed by 539 staff, of whom 14 received more than £300,000 for their silence. Tony Hall, the new director-general, has ordered pay-offs to be capped at £150,000 from September, but he hasn't said whether confidentiality clauses will continue.

That £28m spent on gagging people would have paid for new drama series which could have run over the summer when more people than ever can't afford holidays. It could have paid for new daytime programming, when an ageing population is available to watch – but it's been used to stifle criticism.

The last DG, George Entwistle, resigned after just 54 days in the job, battered by the Savile and McAlpine scandals, and received £450,000 – double what he was entitled to. He won't ever be commenting or criticising his former bosses, and yet it's our money in his bank account. Confidentiality agreements silence whistleblowers and victims of bullying and sexual harassment – and there are hundreds of complaints about past and present senior BBC staff currently being investigated.

The only way to end second-rate management is by shining a bright light on it. How can an organisation like the hapless Care Quality Commission, which is supposed to be about protecting patients and ensuring high standards, be primarily concerned about its own image? Every day, gagging orders are used to hide inefficiencies, corruption and appalling neglect. The police force, councils up and down the land, NHS trusts and regulators all use them, even though it's abundantly clear they are not in the public interest. I've lost count of the number of women who've left organisations from city banks to law firms to police forces, after allegations of unfair dismissal, sexual harassment or bullying, who only receive a fair settlement if they consent to keep quiet.

David Nicholson, who is stepping down as chief executive of the NHS after being branded "the man with no shame", is said to have spent millions of public money on gagging orders to stop staff speaking about failings in the NHS. The CQC is fatally flawed. But unless a law commission puts an end to gagging orders, we can forget about transparency and history will repeat itself.

In the swim

I am enjoying Philip Hoare's book about the ocean, The Sea Inside (Fourth Estate), a wonderful collection of reflections about people and places and everything nautical. Last week I woke at 7am in Whitstable to find that the bracing cold wind of the last few weeks had temporarily stopped, the sun was shining weakly and it was high tide. Inspired by this author, who takes an early morning dip in the sea every day of the year, I pulled on my swimsuit, checked the beach was deserted, and ran straight into the water. WOW! It was like being immersed in crushed ice: God knows how Philip does it in the Solent in December.

I managed 10 minutes of steady breaststroke, which is more than iron man Putin did at the G8 last week when he was comprehensively upstaged by the King of Chillaxing, David Cameron, who ploughed through Lough Erne at 6am to "clear his head". A few years ago, my friend Deb and I went on a cruise around the Western Isles and swam off every day, to the amazement of the other (geriatric) passengers. On Skye, Eriskay, Colonsay and Harris, we avoided tangles of seaweed, jellyfish and midges in equal numbers.

Last year I swam in the sea at least twice a week until the end of October – I wonder if Mr Cameron will be doing the same; I'm sure Philip Hoare can offer some divine locations.

Fruitless

After a change in EU rules, individual pieces of fruit can be lasered with a bar code and place of origin. I should be pleased that packaging is going to be reduced, but the idea of blemishing the skin of a perfect peach, pear or apple in the name of traceability makes me depressed. As it is, most shoppers don't know peas come in pods and broad beans exist outside a plastic bag in the freezer chest. Individual swedes are still coated in a thick layer of plastic in supermarkets.

We seem determined to treat fruit and veg like sculpture, something that's got to be redesigned to suit modern life, not something that's alive. Soon they'll be offering us square potatoes because they're easier to fit in a shopping bag. I only buy fruit that's reduced – it's the only way to get anything ripe without paying a premium called "ready to eat".

Girls allowed

Last week I went to the Richard James spring/summer 2014 menswear show at the BMW showroom on Park Lane in London. Afterwards one of the salesmen was enthusing about their new electric car. "If only there were more women designing cars," he complained – "they make most of the purchasing decisions." The most powerful man in the British car industry, Andy Palmer, executive vice-president of Nissan, has been saying the same thing. He reckons half of all female drivers aren't happy with their cars and says the industry "is failing the largest and most influential customer segment in the world".

The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee has called for a "culture change" to persuade more teenage girls to ditch soft options like hairdressing, beauty and social care and choose science and engineering apprenticeships. Only 1,200 girls enrolled in IT apprenticeships in 2012 compared with 10,400 boys, and just 20 per cent of pupils taking physics A-level are girls. Careers guidance needs to be far more focused on raising aspirations – and although car manufacturers consult female buyers, the product change will be merely superficial until we are actually designing. Only 9 per cent of all the engineers trained in the UK each year are female; in China the figure is 20 per cent. At the Royal College of Art vehicle design MA show last week a group of sponsors were inspecting the glamorous prototypes such as Anthony O'Sullivan's witty Tata Pull – sadly, most were men.

Fine art

Forget the Royal Academy summer exhibition, you'll have a more rewarding experience at the college degree shows. I visited the Royal College of Art's buildings in Kensington (textiles) and Battersea (fine art and jewellery) as well as Chelsea College of Art and Design, next to Tate Britain. Every year I find something fantastic to buy. Last year was jewellery by Laurie Schram, and this time the atmospheric photographic work of Elizabeth Hayley caught my eye at the Royal College.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Take a moment to imagine you're Ed Miliband...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Letters: No vote poses difficult questions – so why rush?

Independent Voices
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits