Letter: One law for the BBC boss, another for the workers

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The Independent Online
RESPONSIBILITY for the arrangement that allowed John Birt, the BBC's Director-General, to avoid tax ('BBC helps its chief to avoid tax', 28 February) must lie at the very top, with the chairman, Marmaduke Hussey.

The BBC should be defended as a public service, but time and again governors and senior executives seem to be conniving to destroy the institution they are charged with preserving.

The Birt tax-avoidance scheme has caused fury among those who work at lower levels in the BBC. While the corporation was telling journalists that such schemes for full-time senior executives are perfectly acceptable, it was deducting tax by PAYE from journalists who work genuinely as freelancers.

Nor is the decision that Mr Birt should go on the payroll any more even-handed. The BBC keeps hundreds of journalists and production staff on short-term contracts, with no job security and no employment rights - and they are fully taxed at source.

The BBC has failed to provide a coherent explanation for around pounds 50m spent last year. It has shelled out further millions to a stream of fashionable consultants whose predictable advice is to shed production capacity, lay off staff by the thousand and increase the already top-heavy management hierarchy.

This is licence fee-payers' money. The loser under the Birt arrangement was the taxpayer. It is outrageous that these people can show such scant concern for public funds.

Marmaduke Hussey was brought in as a political appointee to undermine the public service element in the BBC and now there can be no doubt of his attitude to public accountability. He should resign and if he fails to do so, he should be sacked.

John Foster

General Secretary

National Union of Journalists