Should BBC salaries be secret?
Since the last time he ripped open the blue cellophane HMRC envelope with a sigh and started hunting around for his P60, Joe Public has seen billions of pounds going to the banks, thousands if not millions being used to bankroll the expensive tastes of MPs — and now he sees the BBC clamming up about how much it spends on stars from that other effective tax, the licence fee.
Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, to which the National Audit Office spending watchdog reports, is fuming because the BBC will not reveal how much it pays its big-name radio presenters.
The BBC Trust says it keeps salary details confidential because it has legal obligations to staff and that disclosure would raise questions over data protection and privacy laws.
The generosity of BBC salaries has been a long-running theme, especially since it was reported last year that Jonathan Ross receives some six million pounds a year. Newsreader Carrie Gracie raised eyebrows more recently when she revealed she gets 92,000 pounds a year.
The Corporation says it merely pays the going rate and in some cases less. It has launched a comprehensive redundancy programme and has confirmed that its stars’ salaries will be cut when contracts come up for renewal.
BBC Director-General Mark Thompson has staunchly defended the licence fee, calling it a “critical part of this country’s investment in the creative industries”.
But is it enough? After the jaw-dropping revelations about the way MPs spend public funds, taxpayers are perhaps rightly suspicious about what happens to their money behind closed doors.
Should BBC salaries remain confidential? Does the BBC have a right to withold information from the National Audit Office?