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10 July 2008

BBC staff aren’t laughing

Huge pay hikes for BBC executives, rewarded even when they mess up, below inflation rises for staff

By Jeremy Dear

BBC Director General Mark Thompson said bosses in the private sector would “roll on the floor laughing” at the comparatively low levels of BBC Executive’s pay. He described the £400,000-plus salaries as just “a tiny patch” on what others pay.

I can tell you – there’s no-one laughing in BBC newsrooms or studios or drama departments as senior management are given huge pay rises and bonuses at a time when jobs are being axed and staff pay rises are below inflation.

Some BBC Executives have seen their pay go up by more than 25 per cent – Ashley Highfield saw his pay package go up by £107,000 to over £460,000. Jana Bennett who was embroiled in controversy this year still got a £23,000 bonus on top of her £100,000-plus pay rise. All this in a year of phone scandals and a row with the Queen – not over republicanism but over whether she stormed out of an interview.

BBC Trust Chairman Sir Michael Lyons rubbed salt in to the wounds of journalists, producers, technical and clerical staff when he tried to justify the huge pay hikes and bonuses by bemoaning the fact that there had been lots of change at the BBC that executives had had to deal with in the past year and they had “more responsibilities”.

Who does he think actually makes the change happen, who does he think works in the integrated newsroom, who does he think is having to cope with huge technological changes and fewer resources to do their jobs?

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We’ll be looking forward to the next pay negotiations when all those of our members who have taken on extra responsibility will surely be similarly rewarded. Or is it one law for them and another one for us?

As if to make matters worse BECTU revealed that the BBC Trust with a staff of 61, which is meant to act on behalf of licence fee payers to keep the BBC in check, has spent over £12m in the last year – or around £200,000 a head. Whilst others are expected to demonstrate value for money, serious questions should be asked about the performance of the Trust.

In the introduction to the annual report Sir Michael Lyons says: “This is the public’s BBC and the public pays for it with the licence fee.” Exactly. And I can assure Sir Michael that the public want to see the BBC directing more of its money in to programme-making and less in to executive reward.

At a time when the future of the BBC and in particular whether the licence fee should be shared among other broadcasters is up for debate BBC management are scoring own-goals.

The BBC has axed around 4000 jobs since 2005. Members across all departments regularly tell the unions of ways they are having to cut corners in order to make a smaller budget fit increasing demands for multi-platform working and higher quality programmes.

If, whilst dishing out executive reward, the BBC fails to properly motivate staff and give them the resources needed to maintain quality the case for the unitary receipt of the licence fee will be weakened.

Perhaps fatally.

Jeremy Dear is general secretary of the NUJ

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