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Thursday, 25 June 2009

BBC expenses are just a smokescreen

The BBC published the expenses of its senior executives, with the expected brou-ha-ha, but none of the real corporate excess sometimes found. It seems that no BBC executive can set foot outside the UK without paying £300 a night for a hotel room, and there is the occasional chartered plane, but nothing as grand as a whole Concorde (as was often chartered by NY bank boards for their overseas board meetings cum golfing holidays). But this is really a smokescreen for their unaccountably high salaries.

There is no apparent reason why the third in command in the BBC Finance department should be paid more than the Prime Minister, except that everybody else around there is paid as much, and that goes for the "talent".

But that doesn't get away from the fact that BBC employees, including the "talent" are paid from the public purse. Perhaps not from general taxation, but from a hypothecated usage licence that is every bit as much a tax as every other fee, duty, levy, impost, charge, assessment or withholding created by legislation (and if you want to know where that language comes from you haven't read enough tax indemnity clauses in commercial documents).

The BBC has recognised that there is a legitimate interest in how much the BBC spends on talent, but they are only going to disclose the total amount they spend. "But" they say "it would be wrong to disclose individual star salaries in an industry where confidentiality is the norm. There's a real danger that talent would migrate to broadcasters where confidential information about how much they are paid will not be disclosed."

But hang on a minute. I don't care whether any "talent"'s particular skill is swearing in a kitchen, juggling with their nose or reading the news in Swahili, they are still public sector employees and paid out of the public purse, and for that, reporting of large salaries is the norm.

Of course the talent doesn't want you or me to know how much they earn, for exactly the same reason that other highly paid individuals often like to hide their salaries - lest we should think the less of them. Too many people might think "I could do that job for £750 grand, or even half that amount". And the problem for the talent is that, in many cases, they would be right.

The BBC fret that talent would leave for other channels. From which we deduce that the BBC and the talent must believe that the other channels would welcome them with open arms, and we must conclude that the only thing that keeps talent at the BBC is higher salaries. Both of which imply that openness with salaries would reduce costs.

All-in-all the BBC's analysis doesn't sack up. They pay excessively for talent but appear to be short of common sense.

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