Tuesday 10 December 2019

BBC cuts pay to top talent by £8m

Tony Hall said it is
Tony Hall said it is "an important issue for the public to be aware of how we spend our money"

The BBC has cut the amount it pays its top talent by £8 million, the director general has said.

The broadcaster has reduced pay for talent earning more than £500,000 each by £2.3 million, or 25%.

Lord Tony Hall had earlier given an incorrect figure to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which the BBC has since clarified.

Appearing in front of MPs, Lord Hall said: "We will be revealing in the annual report that we have reduced the total amount of spending on talent by £8 million overall, on an apples for apples basis, roughly 4% between 2015/16 and 2014/15.

"This is really important. We have reduced the top pay of talent over £500,000 by £5 million - 25%.

"We absolutely get this is an important issue for the public to be aware of how we spend our money."

He added: "We were concerned that if we began to publish names it becomes a poachers' charter and left us open to people nicking them from the BBC, but it is right that people such as myself who work for the BBC should have their pay out there for scrutiny."

The BBC later said Lord Hall has misread the figure for reduction of top pay in his notes.

The amount of total talent pay has fallen by more than 12% since 2008/9, the BBC said.

Lord Hall said the BBC had not yet come to any conclusion about what the Brexit vote would mean for the broadcaster.

James Purnell, the BBC's director of strategy and digital - who appeared alongside the director general before the committee, said there had been discussions of contingency plans ahead of the vote about commercial implications for sales and distribution.

He said: "Once we know what the relationship (with the EU) will be, we will go through the areas that will effect us - like protection against rights infringement. There are lots of dominoes to fall until we get to that stage."

Questioned about the make up of the unitary board that will govern the BBC under government white paper proposals, Lord Hall said it must stand up for the independence of the broadcaster and represent the licence fee payer.

He said: "The unitary board is something that I've been arguing for for some time. I think there are huge benefits. I think it will be clear and more accountable and where the views of the licence fee payer will be brought to the BBC. The issue is who sits on that board.

He said the board must take the independence of the BBC seriously and defend it, adding: "I'm really concerned we get independent people with the right skills."

He told the committee there should be a maximum of 14 people on the board, made up of five Government appointees, five BBC appointees and four non-executives or trustees to represent the four nations of the United Kingdom.

He said the process of appointing the board should be led by Rona Fairhead, the chairman of the BBC Trust, who is expected to be named as the board's chair.

Lord Hall added: "We have got Rona as chair which is great, the danger for any big change is you don't have enough continuity to make sure good things carry on."

The director general also fielded questions about changes to the BBC's 6pm news bulletin in Scotland, denying he is under pressure from Culture Secretary John Whittingdale to drop the idea of a Scotland-specific evening broadcast.

He said: "Lots of people put pressure on me for lots of things. My job is to stand back from all that noise."

Asked specifically if the secretary of state was putting him under pressure to drop the idea, he said: "I'm under no pressure from anyone, other than the pressure I put on myself and my teams."

Asked if Mr Whittingdale attempted to lobby him, Lord Hall said: "No. Nobody has said anything to me that is inappropriate. If there was inappropriate pressure I would raise it with the board.

"We will get this programme right. I'm taking my time. I've been part of a relaunch at 6pm that did not work and a programme at 6pm that did work."

Lord Hall also told MPs that he believed the lengthy consultation process that took place before the publication of the white paper impacted the eventual proposals laid out by Mr Whittingdale in the House of Commons in May.

He said comparisons between Mr Whittingdale's remarks about the BBC before the publication and the tone of the white paper showed "a big shift in the appreciation of the BBC" from 15 months previously.

PA Media

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