Video: UK ministers powerless to probe pay-off for Entwistle
Published 14/11/2012 | 05:00
BRITISH ministers are powerless to launch an immediate official inquiry into whether the BBC's former director-general should be stripped of his £450,000 (€560,000) payoff, the National Audit Office has admitted.
Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, said the government's public spending watchdog would review George Entwistle's severance pay.
However, the NAO confirmed that it was unable to launch an "immediate" inquiry unless the BBC Trust referred itself to the spending watchdog.
The government's spending watchdog has limited powers to scrutinise the BBC under an agreement intended to protect it from political interference.
Chris Patten, the chairman of the BBC, admitted that he gave Mr Entwistle a payoff worth twice as much as he was entitled to in order to ensure he would go quietly.
Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday gave his support to Chris Patten despite admitting that the payout was "hard to justify".
He said: "On the BBC, we have said that clearly, it is hard to justify the payment that George Entwistle was given.
"But in terms of Chris Patten, the BBC is a vital national institution. It needs radical and urgent changes to get back on track. But I do believe we have to let the chairman of the trust get on with the process, including the first step – hiring a new director-general."
Mr Entwistle resigned after 'Newsnight' was forced to issue an "unreserved" apology to Lord McAlpine after it broadcast a report that smeared him as a paedophile.
Meanwhile, the vice chairman of the BBC Trust admitted that she authorised Mr Entwistle's £450,000 pay-off as she drank wine and watched 'Strictly Come Dancing'.
Diane Coyle, an economist, tweeted at 5.45pm on Saturday night "getting ready to watch #SCD" and posted a picture of a glass of wine and a bowl of olives.
She insisted she stopped watching the programme when she took the call about Mr Entwistle's compensation.
As the crisis engulfing the broadcaster shows no sign of abating, Fran Unsworth, the new temporary head of BBC News, has appealed to staff not to tweet about "our problems" as she tries to sort out the 'Newsnight' scandal.
Referring to the "tumultuous and very sad events of the past few days", Ms Unsworth sent an email to staff saying: "We need a collective and collegiate sense of all pulling together to restore trust in the BBC's news output."
Victoria Derbyshire, the Radio 5 Live presenter, tweeted that Mr Entwistle had "finally" resigned, while Norman Smith, the BBC's chief political correspondent, messaged that Helen Boaden, who Ms Unsworth is relieving while an internal inquiry is carried out, would not go "without a fight" if the BBC tried to sack her.
Meanwhile, Robert Peston, the BBC's business editor, used his blog to dispute the BBC's claim that Ms Boaden had been happy to "step aside" from her role.
Ms Unsworth stressed her appointment "is a temporary one" and suggested Ms Boaden and her deputy Steve Mitchell would be back in their posts once Nick Pollard had concluded his review into why 'Newsnight' cancelled a film last year that would have exposed Jimmy Savile as a paedophile. (© Daily Telegraph, London)