Looking at the story about the BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten calling the size of severance payments made to senior BBC managers a matter of “shock and dismay”, I wondered why it had taken so long for the ‘gatekeepers’ of the Corporation’s standards to realise what was going on. Seven years ago a senior NUJ official in the broadcasting sector warned about how BBC executives were “bathing themselves in a Jacuzzi of cash, while staff are experiencing a drought”, at a time of staff cutbacks and reductions in their pension benefits.
Speaking in 2006, Paul McLaughlin added that even though the Corporation had capped bonuses at 10% of basic pay – down from 30% two years ago – salary increases meant that senior executives have still seen their total remuneration packages grow significantly. Mr McLaughlin said that as a result senior BBC managers were guaranteed a fixed annual increase in their overall pay and bonus package of 15%. Under the previous bonus scheme, he said, they could get a bigger rise, in theory, but this was more dependent on hitting performance-related targets.
“Over the last three years, (2003-2006) basic BBC executive pay has gone up by more than 30%. That’s at a time when the BBC is claiming there is no money and the annual pay deal they have offered this year is below inflation“, the NUJ representative said.
Today the BBC reports the evidence given by Lord Patten to the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster. Interesting to note the comments by Lucy Adams, Director of Human Resources: when asked about why there had been overpayments (severance payments to executives that went beyond contractual terms), she said “the overwhelming focus was to get numbers out of the door as quickly as possible”. I’m waiting to see the report coming up now on Newsnight.
Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Margaret Hodge MP who had earlier been grilling Lord Patten and the new DG Lord Hall, told Jeremy Paxman the equivalent of half the cost of running Radio 4 (£25m) had been spent by the Corporation on exiting 150 senior executives. Now the blame game is starting.
But one former executive did the right thing: former director of archive content Roly Keating gave back a payment of £376,000 on the basis that it was not authorised “fully and appropriately”.