BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten has suggested that three out of five senior BBC managers could lose their jobs.
The former governor of Hong Kong praised the corporation for becoming more efficient but said viewers do not expect BBC bosses to be paid massive salaries and he wants to see a smaller, more accountable group in charge.
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Speaking at the Prix Italia in Turnin last night, he said: "There are still too many senior managers, around 2.5 per cent of the workforce at the last count.
"I'd like to see this cut to more like 1 per cent by 2015 at the latest so as to create a smaller group of people more clearly accountable for spending the licence fee.
"It has been, and will continue to be, a painful process, but it is necessary if we are to secure public confidence."
Lord Patten arrived at the BBC two years ago.
He found the corporation full of "talented and innovative people".
"I also found too many bosses who worked hard but were paid too much and presided over processes and relationships of labyrinthine and often unnecessary complexity," he said.
"The relentless and admirable advance of transparency in UK public life, underpinned by freedom of information legislation, was flushing that out.
"The BBC was being asked questions about pay, perks and public money which it found uncomfortable to answer.
"Licence fee payers don't expect the BBC to pay sky-high commercial rewards to people who work for a public service.
"They do expect the BBC to deliver the highest quality programmes and services. It needs – and indeed it has – excellent people to do that. The challenge is to balance these demands in the right way.
"To its credit, the BBC has understood and acted on this.
"Executive pay is falling. Reward for the director general has been cut by almost 50 per cent. Pensions have been reformed. Private health care is being phased out. But there is further to go."
The BBC has had a torrid time in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal and news of executives gifted huge pay-offs.
The former Conservative Party chairman said broadcasters need to be quicker to hold their hands up when making mistakes.
He added: "I'm confident viewers and listeners understand that broadcasters cannot do their jobs without occasionally making some serious editorial mistakes or financial misjudgements.
"But they expect those responsible to admit it and explain it when they do. The BBC is not alone in having aggravated both financial and editorial lapses in recent years by failing to provide quick and accurate accounts of what actually happened.
"In our case it has cost us a good deal of money to put right. Some good people lost their jobs as a result and public confidence in our journalism and management was diminished.
"It is a lesson the BBC has learned the hard way. It has been a bruising experience and it is not over yet."
A BBC Trust spokeswoman added Lord Patten's desire to cut the proportion of senior managers to "more like 1% by 2015" was part of the ongoing 2011 senior manager pay strategy.