BBC Expenses

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The BBC published on its website five years’ worth of line-by-line expenses for its executive board members after a series of freedom of information requests. The data offers an extraordinarily detailed snapshot of the inner workings of the BBC.

Expenses claims made by Mark Thompson, BBC Director General and 12 other former and present members of the BBC executive board over the past five years, totalling £363,963.83, were released as the corporation responded to calls for it to be more open and accountable.

By far the biggest claimer of overnight accommodation was BBC Radio 3 Controller Roger Wright, at £6,152.24, and he’s No. 2 overall with £16,489.38. Maybe he enjoys expensive food and staying overnight.

Did anyone hear Mark Thompson on BBC Radio 4’s Today? It struck me as an extremely poor piece of self-congratulatory double-speak on the part of the BBC. The gist of it was the interviewer challenging Thompson on his claiming for congestion charges.

Thompson explained that he claimed only for the official car that drove him to meetings and official functions (this including 23p for parking). When he drove his own family in his own car, he paid the congestion charge himself.

The interviewer continued to badger Thompson on the point, causing Thompson to justify himself by comparisons with standard (private sector) industry practice.

To me Thompson’s claims seemed entirely reasonable, supportable, and well within what any right-thinking person would expect him to claim. There was no controversy, and no need to badger him on the point, or even raise the point to begin with. Businessman claims expenses for costs incurred in business travel! Shock! Horror! Call the BBC to investigate!

Now maybe I’m just being cynical, but the interview smacked of the BBC being ostentatiously “fair” by grilling the boss over something that was actually completely unnecessary to investigate. And more than that, it was deliberately designed to allow him to highlight to listeners how fair and reasonable he is.

The BBC expenses issue is a mere sideshow compared to the more pressing questions such as why the BBC needs such a vast management structure – in the 1970s I’m sure there were relatively few “executives” and there was much more emphasis on producers and programme-makers. There certainly weren’t nonsensical departments such as BBC Vision. Linked to that are other questions such as why those “executives” and managers need to be paid such enormous salaries. Why should public sector salaries be compared with those in the commercial market and not, for instance, with other public sector salaries such as the salary of a Government minister which is many times less than that of the Director General of the BBC?

There is also the question of why the licence fee is so inequitable, why someone on jobseeker’s allowance pays more than Mark Thompson himself for the same TV licence. Needless to say, you will not get any sensible response to any of these questions from a BBC spokesman, or the BBC Trust who are supposed to safeguard the interests of licence fee payers.

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