BBC Trust chairman says stars' salaries should be public

Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust, said last night the corporation needed to reveal its top-earning stars and make details of their pay public.

Outlining plans to slash pay, Lyons called for greater transparency and said that every pound the BBC takes from licence fee-payers must be shown to have been spent well.

Lyons said pay of presenters and top talent – like Jeremy Paxman and Robert Peston – should be published in bands, with the number of people in each band.

He said: “This will significantly increase the degree of transparency in this area. The information will generally be presented in aggregate – that is, anonymously.

“However, I do believe we should release the names of those who receive the biggest incomes from the BBC. You might try to characterise this move as a change of mind.

“It’s true that we’ve been listening carefully to licence fee-payers and we believe that this is one of a small number of areas where we need to recapture public confidence.

“On balance, the BBC should be clearer about who the highest-paid individuals are both on-screen and off.

“We recognise this is not a simple process. Often stars work for independent producers and the terms of trade currently mean we can’t have sight of their fees.

“Some existing BBC contracts have confidentiality clauses that would prevent immediate publication of salaries.

“But we are challenging the director general to work urgently on a plan to deliver greater transparency about who is at the top end of the talent pay scale.

“The Trust is giving a clear signal that it wants to see change in this area.”

The corporation has recently seen the defection of The One Show host Adrian Chiles to ITV, shortly followed by his co-host Christine Bleakley.

Lyons said on-air talent “must not come at any cost” and the BBC had already committed to capping overall spend and reducing the amount it pays its stars.

He said: “I’m sure you’re aware of the recent cases where the BBC has chosen to opt out of a bidding war with a commercial broadcaster, turning the loss of particular individuals into opportunities to bring on new home-grown talent.”

Last night’s announcement follows revelations earlier this week that the BBC was proposing to cut cost by overhauling its pension scheme and freezing the pay of those earning in excess of £37,726 a year.

Lyons told the Voice of the Listener and Viewer seminar in London that the BBC planned to cut the total pay bill for senior management by 25 per cent over three years – but this would now be accelerated.

He said: “We have asked the director general and he has agreed to tighten the timetable for the 25 per cent reduction in the senior management pay bill.

“We would want to see this achieved not in three years, but in 18 months.”

He continued: “The director general and the executive board have each volunteered that for this year and next they will forego a month’s salary, working 12 months for 11 months’ pay.

“The Trust welcomes this and I can also announce that, in parallel, trustees will take an 8.3 per cent pay cut for two years…

“There are clear signs that things are moving in the right direction on the pay agenda – as of the end of May, the number of senior managers has been reduced by 24, leading to £7.76 million off the pay bill.”

Lyons said the BBC executive will be asked to publish details of all public service senior managers’ pay “without exception”.

He said the BBC could not “simply take it for granted” that viewers will be willing to pay more each year.

He said: “I want to give a pledge to all licence fee-payers today that when we come to the next licence fee negotiations, the Trust will enter those talks representing licence fee-payers’ interests alone.

“We will not seek to maximise the BBC’s take from the licence fee. We will seek only what is necessary for the BBC to fulfil its public purposes as set out in the Charter.”

He said the BBC would consider appointing the National Audit Office (NAO) as its financial auditor when KPMG’s contract expires.

But he warned: “In any consideration of a fuller NAO role, we will want to ensure this does not inadvertently lead to inappropriate involvement in the BBC by either Parliament or Government.”

He said the NAO will be asked about conducting further work on the efficiency of the BBC.

The BBC is undergoing a strategy review, which he said “marks a definite quickening of pace in the mission the Trust has set the BBC…

“When we come to make our final decisions in a few months’ time, we will undoubtedly have to make some tough choices – not least because we can’t simply take it for granted that licence fee-payers will be willing to pay more year by year.”

He said that while the BBC is “highly valued”, there were distinct areas where further change – and the acceleration of change – was needed, including demonstrating “that every pound the BBC takes from licence fee-payers is used well”.

Speaking about the need for greater openness, he said: “To the public, the BBC can appear spendthrift when it is unclear how the BBC is using the money the public gives it.

“This underlines the need for much greater financial control and transparency by the BBC.

“To the wider media industry, the BBC can seem over-large, or chronically prone to mission creep, when its content isn’t sufficiently distinctive from what others in the market are offering; or when it fails to give notice about its future plans; or when it doesn’t consult competitors properly.

“These are not size issues but behavioural issues. The answer lies in much more openness by the BBC.

“Openness about how it’s spending the public’s money, openness about its plans, and openness about the way it approaches its collaborations with the wider industry.”

Lyons said it was in licence-payers’ interests that the BBC operated “within tighter and better defined boundaries”.

He said viewers would rightly be upset if the BBC did anything which forced other players out of the market and stopped others from entering.

Lyons said: “It must be right, and especially so when money is tight, that the BBC concentrates its resources on what it does best: commissioning and producing high quality content that goes to the very heart of its public service mission.

“It may well mean that the BBC needs to get better at making its portfolio of individual services distinct from one another, rather than trying to make each service appeal to the broadest possible audiences.”

He concluded: “We must be vigilant in resisting any temptation to act like an international commercial organisation, either in terms of our salary policies or our priorities.”

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