Should BBC salaries be secret?

June 4, 2009

As the annual chore of filling in tax returns looms on the horizon again, many taxpayers might be reflecting longer than usual this year about just where the money is going.

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? 

8 comments

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No the BBC salaries should not remain confidential and BBC should not have the right to with hold info. from National Audit Office.

It is sorced from public money and should definitely be made available to the public in detail in same way as MP expenses. Openess and transparancy is essential in the way public money is spent.

Posted by Roger French | Report as abusive

Absolutely not. There is a rolling wave through all established institutions in the UK and the BBC resist transparency at their peril. The BBC have potentially more to lose than even the House of Commons in terms of taxpayers demanding proper re-structuring and effective accountability for use of license payers money.

I suspect the radio wages bill is vastly out of proportion to the number of listeners and requires significant downsizing of bill. What rank hypocricy of the BBC in pontificating on MPs expenses whilst resisting publishing their own salaries.

Posted by mark | Report as abusive

BBC salaries should NOT be confidential and the BBC should NOT be allowed to withold information from the NAO.

The BBC is a dinosaur – a remnant of the 20th century penchant for vast and unaccountable government departments which existed to meet the needs of the government, not of the people who funded them.

It’s costs and employment practices should be dragged out into the light of day. Only then can there be a realistic debate on whether or not it should continue to be funded by the licence fee.

Another juicy target for the Daily Telegraph or another of our (regrettably few) “crusading” newspapers.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

It depends. £90,000 is fair value for a Woodward or a Bernstein, but obviously not for someone whose idea of an interview is reading out viewers’ emails to someone. But the public generally seem very bad at deciding what is and is not good journalism, as witness the past few weeks. So it’s not clear what (other than an outburst of indignation) would be achieved by publication.

And while we’re at it…. is Reuters prepared to disclose how much it pays Felix Salmon to spend his life sneering at his betters (which appears to include just about everyone)?

Posted by Ian Kemmish | Report as abusive

No, they should not be disclosed!

The BBC does a very good job and if we feel we have to chase off good employees because salaries should be disclosed, it will not be long before the BBC is down in the dumps!

Also can you imagine telling different presenters, actors, directors, etc… Their competition’s salaries! It would be a field day!

Posted by shintekk | Report as abusive

Of course the BBC should disclose its salaries and provide information to the NAO. It spends public money which must be properly accounted for.

“shintekk” makes the mistake of believing that the BBC should be treated in the same way as a private company spending money that it earns through its own efforts. Or perhaps he/she is a BBC employee who believes, like many other public employees such as MPs, that taxpayers’ money is provided for no other purpose than to keep them in the lavish manner to which they have become accustomed.

Posted by Jason | Report as abusive

When they become a privately owned and funded company they can keep all their salaries secret like other companies, while i have to fund them or go to Jail they can publish their shame and let the world know what a bad and ineffective operation they run.

This is the 21st Century and its about time the BBC funded itself, some of us have had enough of paying for something we dont use

Posted by Peter | Report as abusive

As an ex BBC employee, may I make the following comments.
1. Artistes Fees. I think it would be proper for the BBC to publish long term contracts for people like presenters, who are virtually just higher paid staff, and who are not competitively seeking employment in the outside world. As far as performing artistes are concerned, it would not be suitable, as their agents are routinely negotiating with film companies, theatres and other television companies, and disclosure of current contracts could seriously effect current negotiations.

2. Top Management. As far as the top management are concerned, who earn more than a prime minister, there are two problems with their own defence. A lot of them say they come from programme making, but if you take out journalistic programmes in which each person only contributes a small part of the whole, then I doubt if you will find any who have actually sat down with a blank sheet of paper, commissioned a script, raised the funding, cast the artistes, designed the set, and produced/directed the show.
The second problem with their defence that of “only paying the going rate” does not hold water. Outside public service, in the commercial world, managers have to be “makers of money” for their shareholders, whereas in the BBC they are just “spenders of money”. It is very difficult to make money, and very easy to spend money, and salaries should be and salaries should reflect this.

Posted by J. Beveridge | Report as abusive