Stephen Pollard: Why the BBC won't release the Holyrood tapes

Kirsty Wark is a leading member of the Scotia Nostra and an example of the BBC mindset
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The Independent Online

This will be my last piece for The Independent. The BBC is offering a pot of up to £2m to journalists to "compensate" them for not writing, and I quite fancy some of the action, so I'll no longer be writing. Cheerio.

What's that? Oh, I'm sorry. You'll have to put up with me a bit longer, I'm afraid. It seems I've got the wrong end of the stick. The money, it appears, won't be made available to just anyone. In order to be paid not to write, you have first to be a BBC employee. Welcome, once again, to the BBC money pit.

After the fiasco of Andrew Gilligan's allegations against the Government in the Mail on Sunday, the BBC has decided to bar its employees from freelance moonlighting in the papers. The likes of John Humphrys, Andrew Marr and Jeremy Clarkson, who write regular columns - for which, one imagines, they receive healthy remuneration - in addition to their day jobs, will no longer be able to share their thoughts with us outside of their BBC work. They will have to exist solely on the meagre workhouse rates that the BBC pays them.

The poor dears! How could the BBC be so unreasonable as to hire people to do a job, pay them well for it, and then refuse to allow them to do another job on top?

As Andrew Marr put it in his column last week: "The Marr finances are evenly balanced: the first proclamation of austerity will mean the food supply for our blameless, respectable and somewhat nervous guinea-pig, Mr Snuffles, being instantly stopped. If they could only see the expression in his trusting eye. But, enough. On their heads be it."

Mr Marr's words seem to have a struck a chord with the BBC. The corporation is offering "compensation" for ... for what, exactly? For not moonlighting? For not doing another job? For going home when they've finished work? Nice work (nice not work, I suppose) if you can get it. And you can get it if you go to work for the BBC.

But how are we, the poor readers, to be compensated for our loss? How will we cope without our weekly fix of what Mr Marr described last week as "wittering on about Chopin and Attlee"? I am bereft.

Not that anyone should be surprised by any of this. The words "gravy", "train", "British", "Broadcasting" and "Corporation" go together like ... well, like "fleecing", "the" and "public". Let's not even talk about the poll tax which forces you and I to pay for the rubbish the BBC serves up most nights of the week, and to have its world view thrust at us by some reporters who seem to be more interested in pushing a line than reporting objectively.

Instead, let's say hello to Kirsty Wark. Ms Wark is a fine, accomplished broadcaster. She is also a leading member of what's known as the Scotia Nostra - the Scottish establishment, which appears to exist first to scratch and then to cover each other's backs. And she is yet another example of the BBC's arrogant mindset.

As well as being co-founder of Wark Clements, the independent TV company, Ms Wark was on the panel which selected the design for the new Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. How convenient, then, that the company chosen by BBC Scotland to make a fly on the wall series about the building of the Parliament was ... yes, you guessed it: Wark Clements. There were allegations before a frame was even shot of a conflict of interest, since Ms Wark could hardly make an objective film about her own decision.

As the project has descended into one of the greatest wastes of public money in history - what was estimated to cost £40m and be built by 2001 has, so far, cost £400m (yes, you read that right) and is still not ready - so the allegations have deepened. The BBC, you see, has refused to co-operate fully with the inquiry which started investigating the mess in October. Ms Wark's company has taped interviews with the main figures, including Donald Dewar and Enric Miralles, the architect. Since both are now dead, those interviews are of critical importance. And guess what? BBC Scotland is refusing to allow the inquiry access to the tapes, claiming that it is protecting sources. Since all the interviews were conducted on the record, and most of the interviewees, and Miralles' widow, have said they are happy for them to be used in evidence, such a stance is bizarre.

Or, rather, it would be if there was not already so much evidence of the way the BBC behaves.

Think this one through: Kirsty Wark's company is producing a film for the BBC about a project for which she was responsible - a project which is obscenely extravagant in its waste of public money - and the BBC is refusing fully to co-operate with the investigation into that waste.

Nasty smell doesn't even come close to describing it. But why on earth would anyone be surprised?

Stephen Pollard is a senior fellow at the Centre for the New Europe