The BBC’s spin doctors will be broadly happy at the coverage Alan Yentob’s ‘resignation’ as BBC Creative Director has generated, but licence fee payers should not be so pleased. For, on closer inspection, the whole thing is a gigantic swizz.
Yentob may have relinquished his £183,000 salary, and his executive status, but it is now obvious that he will remain a very well paid fixture at the BBC for some time yet – and an even less accountable one.
Firstly, it is important to note that as the Daily Telegraph reported today, by standing down from this job, Yentob escaped an internal BBC inquiry into allegations that he interfered with BBC News’s reporting of the Kids Company scandal over the summer. The BBC Trust was on the brink of launching the probe – of the highest relevance because Yentob was chairman of Kids Company’s trustees – when he made his surprise decision to resign. It has now been confirmed that this mooted investigation has been shelved. Others must judge for themselves whether Yentob acted out of conviction or convenience but the BBC staff I have talked to are in no doubt whose interests Yentob put first.
Incidentally, I was the chance witness of one of these attempts to meddle with the BBC’s coverage of the Kids Company affair. On the night of 2 July I was in the offices of BBC2’s Newsnight when Yentob rang to ask about the Kids Company item it was about to air. It was apparent then that Yentob would rather no item went out but, to the programme’s credit, staff ignored him. Indeed, they laughed at him when his unwanted call ended. It seemed to me that they actively disliked him. Yentob was not at all happy with the subsequent broadcast but he should never have even tried to stick his nose where it did not belong – and he knows it.
Even though Yentob has given up his executive post, he will remain at the BBC as editor and presenter of his long-running BBC1 arts programme, Imagine. I have been told by some of his colleagues that Yentob loves being on television so much that he genuinely feared losing this role. So, under a scheme cooked up by Yentob and BBC chief Tony Hall, he has been allowed to hang on to it.
The problems with this arrangement are twofold. As a BBC presenter, Yentob will no longer have to declare publicly either his salary – believed to be £150,000 a year – or his expenses and is also unlikely to be subject to Freedom of Information laws as he is now. So, he will be less accountable than he is now.
But perhaps more worrying is that Yentob will still be in charge of Imagine’s publicly funded seven-figure budget. This is, to put it mildly, ironic given that he appears to have failed dismally to carry out his duties properly as Kids Company chairman of trustees and chief financial decision-maker.
Under his watchful eye, and during Camila Batmanghelidjh’s reign as chief executive, the charity galloped through some £45 million of public money between 2002 and 2015 in a range of highly questionable ways. For example, was it not incumbent upon Yentob to ask why 25 men and women in their 20s and 30s – many of whom held down jobs – were given £770,000 between them during 2014? Or why the school fees and others costs associated with the education of the children of Camila Batmanghelidjh’s chauffeur were allegedly being paid by Kids Company? What of the sex-change operation Kids Company arranged via private doctors for a person in their 20s after the NHS refused to fund it?
Yentob would like the public to believe that for honourable reasons he has sacrificed his position at the BBC. More accurately, he has simply removed a line from his business card. He will remain a trusted advisor to Tony Hall, the lame duck BBC director-general who only secured his job at the third attempt, by default, because of the crisis triggered by the Jimmy Savile scandal. This pair seem to need each other.
The Charity Commission is deep into a statutory inquiry into Kids Company. MPs on the Public Administration Committee are also nearing the end of their inquiry into Kids Company. And the police are still looking into Kids Company over sex abuse allegations. Perhaps one of these agencies will find wrongdoing concerning Yentob where the BBC found none.