By Harry Fone, grassroots campaign manager
The BBC annual report is out, which means another slew of info on the pay for top bosses and stars. This year the report reveals the good, the bad, and the ugly.
First, the good. The Beeb have finally taken note of our long running campaign and started to reduce the bumper wage bills. In our BBC Rich List 2020, we revealed Auntie’s stars and executives were receiving mega-salaries, with 253 senior staff costing £37.5 million and enjoying incredible expenses. The pay and perks for the top 20 bosses alone came to almost £6 million! Amidst this scandal, the highest earning executive in 2019-20 was former director general Tony Hall, who received a total of £471,000 in salary and taxable benefits, including (would you believe it) a car and driver.
Most shockingly of all, median earnings across the BBC were £45,500 in 2019-20. This was double median earnings in the North East of England and 83 per cent higher than median earnings across the UK (£24,897). So much for Auntie understanding her audience.
But we’re pleased to report that, for this year, things have changed. The number of senior bosses has come down, and so has the cost. For the top 20, the cost has fallen slightly to £5,407,000. This time it’s not the DG who tops the list, but previous number two Charlotte Moore, chief content officer, who took home £438,000. Last year, receiving £221,000 (John Shield, director of communications and corporate affairs) was enough to make it into the top 20. Now it’s down slightly to the £212,500 pocketed by Shirley Cameron, the BBC’s group financial controller. With the wage bill for stars cut by 10% to £130m - down from £144m last year - one cannot deny the new director general Tim Davie is overseeing a leaner BBC management budget. The new chairman, Richard Sharp, even donated his fee to charity.
But what about the bad? For that, you have to dig a little further into the figures. Median earnings across the BBC were £45,900 in 2020-21, a pay rise of 1 per cent. It is still almost double the median earnings in the North East of England and 78 per cent higher than median earnings across the UK (£25,780). So when it comes to relating to their audience, the BBC still has much more to do. The same can be said for the gender pay gap, where once again the BBC does not practice what it preaches. Only 7 of the 20 top paid stars and 8 of the 20 top paid executives were women, a miniscule improvement on last year (when it was 7 out of 20 for both). Progress is being made, but many taxpayers will still be left disappointed by these apparent baby steps.
Then there’s the downright ugly. Last year we revealed that, as part of that £37.5 million senior staff bill, plenty of BBC bosses were riding the licence fee gravy train. Piers Wenger (controller, drama commissioning) was not only the second highest paid non-executive senior staff member, receiving £272,500, but he also claimed for things like £130 on a 4 star spa hotel in Venice which has 68 different treatments; and £6,597 on a return flight to Los Angeles. At its core, this sort of behaviour reveals a long-held contempt for taxpayers’ money.
And we see the same thing rear its ugly head this year. It would appear Andy Baker, director of engineering operations, spent around £5,758.17 at a 4 star hotel over the year. He seemingly spent multiple nights at the Wood Norton Hotel & Restaurant in the Worcestershire countryside. The hotel boasts of a “restaurant using the finest local produce, contemporary bar and alfresco dining terrace, sumptuous private dining, state-of-the-art boardroom and meeting facilities, extensive grounds and formal gardens”. Not wanting to let the side down, Jonathan Wall (controller of BBC Sounds) spent £335 staying at 4 star Langham Court Hotel, “nestled in a tranquil West End enclave close to London's most fashionable boutiques.” And of course Shane Alan (controller, comedy commissioning, television), who spent almost £100 at Belfast’s “hip” 4 star Bullitt hotel and over £165 on flights to get there. All while bosses were costing taxpayers tens of millions of pounds in pay and perks.
Let’s remember that these BBC pay packets and perks are picked from the pockets of pensioners and taxpayers, who are fed up of the licence fee full stop. Any inkling of a wasteful attitude towards public money is enough to remind ratepayers that the BBC’s attitude towards spending money has been abysmal. Tim Davie will need to root out waste from top to bottom (including in expense claims by his own management team) if he is to recover the taxpayer’s trust.
Perhaps this is asking too much? Well if the BBC simply isn’t capable of reducing senior salaries further, limiting luvvie pay or eradicating excessive expenses, we have a simple solution. Stop funding it with public money. If things can’t change, it’ll be clear proof that we must axe the TV tax and put a stop to taxpayers’ money reaching these media millionaires. With new competitors in the market and BBC stars refusing to behave, perhaps it’s time the BBC goes independent and Tim Davie is forced to earn every penny of his £471,000 pay packet. Then we’ll see if he truly deserves the £525,000 he’s reported to be expecting next year.