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Some BBC stars to be exempt from salary disclosure

Published 13/10/2016

BBC Studios, which makes some of the corporation's biggest hits such as Strictly Come Dancing, will be exempt from full named salary disclosure (BBC/PA)
BBC Studios, which makes some of the corporation's biggest hits such as Strictly Come Dancing, will be exempt from full named salary disclosure (BBC/PA)

A minister has indicated some of the BBC's biggest stars will escape having their pay made public.

It has been revealed BBC Studios, which make's some of the corporation's biggest hits such as EastEnders and Strictly Come Dancing, will be exempt from full named salary disclosure.

Culture minister Lord Ashton of Hyde said the newly created division would be operated on a fully commercial basis and would not benefit from licence fee funding.

The Tory peer said the transparency requirement "would undermine BBC Studio's ability to compete effectively in the market".

The move comes in the face of criticism of the Government's decision to force the BBC to publish the pay of dozens of its top presenters.

Under the proposed new royal charter, the BBC would have to have to disclose the pay of staff and "talent" earning more than £150,000 a year.

The Government defended the measure, arguing the corporation should be as "open and transparent as possible".

Critics have branded it an "unpleasant populist gesture" and it has sparked warnings that it would drive away talent and push up pay.

Concerns were repeatedly raised during a lengthy debate in the House of Lords on the corporation's draft 11-year royal charter.

Addressing these in his summing up, Lord Ashton said: "We have been clear that we believe the licence fee payers deserve transparency in this context. It is after all public money."

He went on: "But on the other hand we have listened to some of the issues about BBC Studios, which are going to be competitive, and there are concerns whether those new salary transparency requirements will cover BBC Studios.

"We've thought very carefully about those concerns... about this outstanding question and so I can today confirm that full named salary disclosure will not be applied to BBC Studios in future."

The minister added: "They will not be benefiting from taxpayer funding.

"It needs to operate on a fully commercial basis to be successful and so we agree with the BBC that to require full named transparency would undermine BBC Studios' ability to compete effectively in the market.

"However, we expect BBC Studios not only to conform to best practice standards across the industry about pay and transparency but to lead the way.

"We have also had reassurances from the BBC that they will respect the overall principle of pay transparency, which is clearly set out in the drafts.

"We expect that all those who have worked for the BBC this year and have earned more than £150,000 from the licence fee will be disclosed in the BBC's 2016/17 annual report, even if some of those individuals will have moved into BBC Studios before the end of the current financial year.

"So I hope that shows, at least in some respects, we are taking on board points even at this late stage."

Among those to raise concerns during the debate over the disclosure requirement were Conservative peer and ex-BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten of Barnes.

He said: "It is ludicrous. It's ludicrous to talk about transparency over what Strictly Come Dancing presenters get when we are not having transparency about how the licence fee settlement is established in the first place.

"There's no public interest whatsoever in knowing what Gary Lineker gets paid. It's merely a rather unpleasant populist gesture to some of our tabloids. That's all it amounts to.

"I think it will probably lead to pushing up talent pay rather than the opposite."

Former BBC director general John Birt, an independent crossbencher, said: "I think the new requirement to reveal the compensation of top talent is low politics.

"Requiring the BBC to reveal Gary Lineker's compensation is just mischief-making. It will invade the privacy of people, who are not determining how to spend the public's money.

"It will frighten away talent and it will sow unnecessary dissension. I ask Government simply to drop this requirement."

Former TV boss and Conservative peer Lord Grade of Yarmouth said: "Its stated intention is to make the BBC's spending on talent more transparent. Transparent certainly, but ultimately inflationary.

"What this disclosure requirement in reality says is that we must increase transparency in the interests of value for money by prescribing exactly the conditions to promote inflation."

He argued that some people would choose not to work for the BBC as a result.

Lord Grade added: "This proposal I would describe as Ongar, which as you know is a small Essex town beyond Barking."

Speaking in the debate, Labour peer and former EastEnders actor Lord Cashman said: "On transparency, and particularly on the subject of talent pay, I point out that the BBC is already incredibly transparent on what it pays.

"Any transparency should be industry-wide and not confined to the BBC, where it may restrict access to and the retention of talent.

"Indeed, I believe that such an approach would drive talent away. As Lord Patten, alluded to, it is nothing short of pandering to governance by tabloids. We should be better than that."

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