BBC to review pay structure

Concern over tax payments.

MPs heard at the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee yesterday that 148 of its 467 TV and radio presenters were paid through personal service companies (PSCs) firms rather than on the corporation’s payroll.

Wages paid through PSCs, which are legal, do not have income tax and national insurance contributions deducted at source, allowing tax dues to be reduced.

The PAC also heard claims from an unnamed presented that he was "bullied” into using a PSC arrangement for his pay.

The BBC's chief financial officer, Zarin Patel, said yesterday at the Committee hearing that due to high levels of public concern over the use of PSCs to employ some presenters, it would review whether this was appropriate for the broadcaster.

At least 41 BBC "off payroll" freelancers earning £100,000 or more last year did not pay tax at source, with five of these earning more than £150,000 per year, according to the corporation’s figures following a freedom of information request by Conservative MP David Mowat.

"With the amount of public concern expressed today, I think I have to say yes, we will review it, and we will review it with real seriousness," Patel told the House of Commons public accounts committee.

"But can I emphasise that none of this is designed to avoid tax. That is not why we use an extensive number of freelance contracts at the BBC."

This article originally appeared in economia.

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This is a news story from economia.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.