17:45 Monday 9th September 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: The former BBC Director General Mark Thompson has been questioned by MPs today about large payoffs for executives. Seven BBC managers past and present are being grilled about this highly controversial issue by members of the Public Accounts Committee. Our political reporter Robin Crystal has been listening to the exchanges.
ROBIN CRYSTAL: Well in essence what we’re talking about here is a total of £25 million that was paid out to 150 BBC executives. In the case of 14 of them, they ended up with much more than they should have got. The particular focus is however on two. The biggest example is the former Director General of the BBC Mark Byford, who walked away with more than a million pounds in payoff. Now the question is who knew what when. How much of this was known? It was a decision taken by the former Director General of the BBC Mark Thompson, who’d been called back from New York – he no longer works at the BBC – because there’s a disagreement between whether he had told the Head of the Trust, that’s the organisation that represents you and me, the licence fee payer, whether Lord Patten, the Head of that Trust, knew as well. So it’s an argument between these two men. Were they both aware of the payoff, the amount of it? Who signed it off? And should they have given that much?
CHRIS MANN: So what’s been said so far Robin?
ROBIN CRYSTAL: Well Mr Thompson has stuck to his guns that Lord Patten, the Head of the Trust, was aware of the money. And Lord Patten is saying no I wasn’t, and I couldn’t have been, because by the time I got in the post the money had already been paid. The other element that’s coming out very strongly I think for most of the MPs that are questioning this group of BBC top brass, is incredulity that nobody dealt with what the Chairman of the Committee, Labour’s Margaret Hodge, is calling megabucks. And she put it to them, he walks away with a million, when half a million would have been enough. Why was nothing done about it? Mr Thompson’s argument is that he wanted Mark Byford to stay on to the end of his contract because there was the BBC was involved in a lot of major reorganisation. It was moving people to Salford where for example Radio Five is now based. It was concerned with the Olympics. It was concerned with the Royal Wedding. And it wanted him to work out his contract. The point is Chris that he was paid over and above what he should have been paid whilst working out that contract. And that is where a lot of the MPs anger is now directed.
CHRIS MANN: The key thing in all this Robin is what matters to the licence fee payer, what the public thinks about the state of the BBC and what’s been going on.
ROBIN CRYSTAL: Well the MPs are making it clear that they have been told by ordinary voters, constituents, of their anger and frankly disgust, that was the word that Margaret Hodge used, disgust at the amount of these payouts. As she put it, an ordinary worker, indeed as she said an ordinary lowly employed in the BBC, would have to work for 40 years to get the sort of payoff that Mr Byford got.
CHRIS MANN: That’s Robin Crystal reporting there on the latest BBC controversy.