On Wednesday Lord Ashton, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport told a Lords debate that BBC Studios would not have to carry out “full named disclosure”. This is unfortunately a step backwards for transparency, considering there are still uncertainties over the actual competitiveness of programme production of the new commercial operation, and whether it will still benefit from public funding.
More astonishingly, former BBC director general John Birt dismissed the plan of salary disclosure as “mischief-making”, while ex-BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten of Barnes branded the move an “unpleasant populist gesture”. Lord Patten also said that the plans were likely to push up pay. This seems an extraordinary claim, after a leaked review of salaries in the corporation’s news division revealed BBC journalists are currently paid up to 40% more than their competitors in the commercial sector, largely thanks to collective bargaining. Some BBC staff are also entitled to an array of allowances and pay top-ups for working unsociable hours, which commercial rivals have criticised as “absurd”.
Responding to the debate, John O'Connell, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said:
“It is absolutely wrong to tar calls for transparency and accountability as mischief making. Licence fee payers hand over their cash on the threat of prison and they deserve to know how their money is being spent. Other public bodies are rightly obliged to reveal far greater detail about all those on six-figure salaries and there is no justification for allowing the BBC to escape that scrutiny.”