The BBC’s managerial superstars, past and present, arrived at the Public Accounts Select committee yesterday afternoon to answer questions about executive pay. Like a frightened flock of geese they all began waddling in the same direction. Away from responsibility.
Up first was Mark Thompson. The former D-G had jetted in from New York and his aim was to exonerate himself with a bulldozer strategy. ‘I paid senior staff fortunes to remove them swiftly. Delay would have cost more. I saved the BBC millions. I was brilliant. No one can touch me. Beat that.’ The Thompson tank was very effective and flattened all questioners.
The issue then turned to the BBC Trust’s ability to hold the executive to account. Who, in particular, had overseen the million-pound payout given to Mark Byford when his post as Deputy D-G was scrapped? Sir Michael Lyons, former chairman of the Trust, edged shiftily away from any involvement in this infamous deal. The more he denied all knowledge of it, the more his crimson cheeks darkened and wobbled. In fact he denied it so vigorously that he even denied it when he was being asked about something else. This might have looked suspicious had it not been for the testimony of the Trust’s director, Nicholas Kroll.
This stunning bureaucrat looks like an accountant who’s come to a costume-party dressed as an accountant. With his limp hair, luke-warm eyes, obvious spectacles and mosquito-drone delivery, he gave the same answer to every question. ‘Not the Trust’s responsibility.’ MPs got quite heated with him. They demanded to know why he hadn’t queried Byford’s million-pound deal. ‘That figure isn’t for the Trust it’s for the executive,’ he repeated. Believing this formula was working a treat, he wheeled it out again with a flourish. ‘Responsibility rests with the executive.’ Margaret Hodge accused him of hiding behind sophistries and asked him how much he earns for upholding the interests of licence-fee payers. ‘£238,000 a year,’ he replied. He sounded quite sheepish that time.
It was an hour before Chris Patten, the Trust’s chairman, said a word. Margaret Hodge turned to him and apologised that the previous contributors had been ‘dancing on the heads of pins.’ Patten agreed. ‘An awful lot of pinheads here,’ he joked. But he was looking at the MPs.
These days Lord Patten exudes the self-satisfied sleekness of a hooker who’s just married a billionaire with a heart condition. Today he too was carrying a shirker’s brief. But he handled it with admirable finesse. He is a master committee man. His only contribution was to say thank you to KPMG for their investigation into the BBC between 2006 and 2010. This forgotten report, Patten said, revealed that the Beeb had always been populated with semi-corrupt self-serving spendthrifts. Clearly he was merely upholding a fine tradition by keeping the big cheques rolling.
Only one victim was unable to escape her record. Lucy Adams is the BBC’s stunning head of human resources. With her film star looks, her sultry eyes and her loose, shiny brunette bob, she drove the MPs wild with jealousy. Why, they asked, had she not prevented these enormous settlements being made? Ms Adams reeled off a catechism of corporate obligations. ‘Avoid litigation, minimise disruption, discharge our duty to the individual.’ MPs were not satisfied. Did she sometimes call the payouts ‘sweeteners’? She denied ever using this ‘strange term’. Then the committee, rather sneakily, read out a leaked email in which she had written, ‘Can I get a sense of the sweetener?’ Ms Adams asked to see the document. Request denied. ‘You have a habit of changing your testimony,’ warbled Margaret Hodge at her. ‘That’s really unfair,’ said Ms Adams. ‘I don’t think it is,’ said Hodge, silencing her.
It’s clear why the BBC got such a grilling yesterday. The MPs were simply overjoyed that they weren’t the biggest sleazebags in the room.Tags: BBC, UK politics