It is good to see the recently appointed Chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, hit the ground running. And he is quite right when he says that the issue of salaries paid to executives at the Corporation is one of the "most toxic reasons for the public's lack of sympathy for the BBC". He is promising to announce action on this, and other matters he regards as urgent, later this week.
Of course, there will be questions about how much leeway the Trust chairman has to force change, given that the BBC has presumably entered into contractual obligations; questions, too, about the right of BBC managers to manage, if they feel that the Trust is looking over its shoulders all the time. But this is a Corporation funded by the licence fee and the paying public has a right to know how the money is spent. There has long been a need for much greater accountability.
Lord Patten, though, must eschew over-zealousness. Licence-payers generally distinguish between the pay of on-screen performers and presenters – where the need for a significant market element is understood – and salaries for senior, and especially middle, managers, which are widely judged to be too high. Lord Patten's particular concern is the huge gap between top and bottom salaries, and the perks available only to senior managers, which serve to widen the gap further.
This should be a cause for concern in a public corporation. But the issue would be less "toxic" if the BBC's management structures were not widely seen as bloated compared with those of many private media companies and if pay did not often seem out of proportion to the real responsibilities borne. What many people on average salaries want to know is how many BBC managers would command similar salaries in the private sector? We, and they, may be about to find out.Reuse content