BBC is paying over the odds for radio talent claim MPs

June 4, 2009 at 5:38 pm Leave a comment

The Public Accounts Committee has slammed the BBC for refusing to reveal how much money it pays its radio presenters.

Today the committee published a report on the BBC’s management of radio production efficiency.

It accused the corporation of giving “inaccurate information to this committee on the cost of its top radio presenters relative to commercial competitors.”

It said the expensive contracts with top presenters reduces the cost base from which the BBC can seek efficiency savings.

Edward Leigh MP, chair of the committee, said:

“The National Audit Office has a statutory right to examine the details of expenditure in any government department.

“It has no such right of audit access to the BBC, despite the fact that the Corporation is funded with over £3 billion of public money each year.

“One consequence of this highly unsatisfactory arrangement is that the BBC would not provide the head of the NAO, the Comptroller and Auditor General, with a breakdown of the presenter and staff elements of radio programme costs, unless the C&AG agreed to constrain his discretion to report to Parliament on what he saw.

“Quite rightly, the C&AG, who handles information of the highest sensitivity in his wider work, refused to accept such a constraint.

“Very few will find acceptable any such constraints on the National Audit Office’s ability to investigate how a publicly funded national institution spends our money.

“It is disgraceful that the NAO’s lack of statutory audit access to the BBC puts the Corporation in the position to dictate what the spending watchdog can and cannot see.

“What the NAO has been able to find out is that the costs of similar programmes on different BBC networks vary widely.

“And, for most breakfast and ‘drive time’ shows, the BBC’s costs per hour are much higher than those at commercial stations.

“This is primarily down to the size of contracts with top presenters which, the BBC has confirmed, absorb over three-quarters of staff costs on these shows.

“All of this places a big question mark over whether the BBC is achieving value for money for the licence payer.”

The committee said there are “unexplained differences in the cost of similar BBC programmes.”

“Looking beyond internal cost comparisons, the costs of some BBC radio programmes are also significantly higher than those of comparable programmes broadcast by commercial stations.

“For example, the cost for an hour of Radio 2’s breakfast show, Wake Up to Wogan, is double the cost of the most expensive commercial breakfast show.

“Although commercial stations provided the Comptroller and Auditor General with cost information, the BBC has, as yet, not carried out any benchmarking with commercial stations.”

The committee said the BBC appears to be paying more than twice what commercial radio stations are paying their presenters.

“The BBC has not convinced us that it needs to pay so much more than the commercial sector to some of its presenters, who can owe their fame to their jobs at the BBC.

“There is no obvious core skill for presenters that cannot be found by seeking out new talent.

“We are not persuaded that the market, rather than the BBC itself, on the back of the licence fee, is driving what top BBC radio presenters are paid.”

The committee recommended that the BBC should establish why it is paying more than other stations for some presenters and take advantage of the position of current market conditions and the BBC’s standing in the industry to attract and retain talent at the minimum cost necessary.


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