Patten 'shocked' by BBC payouts and tells MPs to quiz former DG Mark Thompson

BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten has said he is shocked at how many senior staff were given hefty payoffs that breached the corporation's own guidelines.

He told the Commons Public Accounts Committee it was "a question of shock and dismay for us" when it emerged that staff had been paid more than they were contractually owed in some cases. Patten joined BBC bosses including director-general Tony Hall and human resources director Lucy Adams at the committee.

The session comes after a National Audit Office (NAO) report showed that huge payments, of hundreds of thousands of pounds in some cases, were made even though executives were not always entitled to the money.

Asked why he did not know some payoffs had gone beyond what was contractually needed, Patten appeared to suggest former director-general Mark Thompson should be called to give evidence.

He told the committee: "If you call a previous director general of the BBC I will be as interested as you are why we didn't know."

Speaking about Thompson's eventual successor George Entwistle, who stood down after a few weeks in the job, Patten said his payoff of £450,000 was necessary to prevent a potentially larger bill if they had got bogged down in legal argument.

He said: "We would have fetched up paying more than we in fact had to pay him."

Patten admitted Entwistle was paid for an extra 20 days work for the BBC to help manage the transition to a new director-general but "as it happened he wasn't required to do anything".

BBC Trust member Anthony Fry said some BBC staff were "out to lunch" in regard to how much they expected senior executives to be paid, and some people had got "unreasonable" salaries and payoffs.

He was also questioned about a letter from Thompson to the trust where he said the payoff to former deputy director-general Mark Byford, who walked away with almost £1 million, was within contractual arrangements when in fact it was not.

Asked if the former director-general had lied to him, Fry refused to reply and said there was "some disconnect" between what was in the letter and what was subsequently uncovered by the NAO in its report.

In the report, the spending watchdog said the payouts had "put public trust at risk".

In one case the NAO found an executive was paid £300,000 in lieu of notice after their redundancy was agreed – despite serving their notice in full.

The payment, equivalent to the cost of 2,062 licence fees, was agreed by Thompson, and the unnamed figure's redundancy was paid even though they had found a new job.

In a three-year period up to last December, the BBC spent £25 million on severance payments for 150 high-ranking staff, according to the NAO report, and since 2005 it has made payments totalling £60 million to 401 senior managers.

In almost a quarter of the individual cases reviewed by the NAO, the BBC paid out more than the staff were entitled to under their contracts.

The report also highlighted the case of former BBC2 controller Roly Keating, who was given a £375,000 pay-off but returned the money after learning it had not been properly authorised.

Concerns about payments have been heightened in recent months following the decision to award Entwistle twice the money he was entitled to after resigning from his job after only 54 days.

The committee has previously expressed disquiet about a redundancy payment to former chief operating officer Caroline Thomson, who left last year with a £670,000 pay-off – more than twice her £330,000 salary.

It suggested the money was effectively paid to "compensate" her for missing out on the director-general job.

After taking over as director-general earlier this year, Hall announced moves to cap payments at £150,000 and improve the process.

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