Once again, the extent to which the BBC management has lost touch with reality has been exposed. This time, it comes with the revelation that some £24m of taxpayers’ money was spent persuading London-based staff to relocate to Salford as part of the broadcasters’ commitment, in 2004, to shift the majority of its programming away from the capital.
The figures set out by the National Audit Office yesterday simply cannot be justified. Of the 850-odd people handed a lump sum to lure them north, nearly 200 received £50,000 or more and 11 pocketed £100,000-plus.
Hardly more encouraging is the NAO’s conclusion that the Corporation “did not apply a consistent approach” to the handling of those cases considered “exceptional”. Not just profligate, then; also shambolic.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the BBC exists in a parallel world – or at least its bosses think that it does. For most of us, if the job moves then we are required to move with it – or to pursue our options elsewhere.
Not only do the BBC’s over-generous sweeteners make a mockery of the Corporation’s supposed aim of improving its diversity by spreading its operations around the country. Coming so soon after George Entwistle was handed a £450,000 pay-off – despite being forced to stand down as Director-General, after just 54 days in the job, over his incompetent handling of the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal – the case is overwhelming for closer attention to be paid to where and how the licence fee is spent.
The BBC Trust yesterday expressed “disappointment” that the controls on relocation payments had proved inadequate. But that cannot be the end of the matter. It is up to Tony Hall, the newly installed Director-General, to shake up the culture of an institution that has become unforgivably self-indulgent. His recent proposal of a £150,000 cap on executive pay-offs is a start. But it is only a start. And the exorbitant relocation costs show how far he has to go.