Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

BBC management 'broke', says Hodge

Former BBC director general Mark Thompson left the corporation last year to take over at the New York Times

BBC bosses were told the Corporation's management structure is "broke" after a committee of MPs heard a "grossly unedifying" list of claims and counter-claims about who knew what about huge pay-outs to senior staff.

Former director-general Mark Thompson, one of seven witnesses called by the Public Accounts Committee, was forced to deny a charge that the BBC had "lost the plot" when it gave a pay-off of almost £1 million to his former deputy, Mark Byford.

MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, told those present that the meeting was a "grossly unedifying occasion which can only damage the standing and the reputation of the BBC". She said: "At best, what we've seen is incompetence, lack of central control, a failure to communicate for a broadcaster whose job is communicating. At worst, we may have seen people covering their backs by being less than open. That is not good."

Earlier in the hearing, she asked Mr Thompson why Mr Byford needed an extra payment when he was contractually due around half a million pounds, saying: "Why was £500,000, which is for most people mega bucks, not enough?"

The BBC's HR boss, Lucy Adams, also came under fire after she said the payment was part of a plan to cut numbers of senior staff without causing too much disruption - leading Ms Hodge to tell her: "This attitude that the top cadre of people at the BBC faced greater difficulty when they faced redundancy rather than a receptionist or someone lower down is offensive, just offensive."

In another heated exchange, Ms Hodge told Ms Adams: "I'm not having any more lies this afternoon."

Following the suggestion that her evidence should be taken with "a pinch of salt", Ms Adams said such an inference was "grossly unfair" and she had been confused about what document the committee was referring to.

In another barbed comment after Ms Adams asked to see a leaked email in which she allegedly referred to a severance package as a "sweetener", Ms Hodge said: "You are developing a habit, Ms Adams, of changing your evidence after the hearing", a claim with Ms Adams said was "really unfair".

Mr Thompson told the committee that in his view Mr Byford's severance package represented "value for money" and said he had been under "ferocious pressure" from the Trust to make savings by cutting senior staff.

Former chairman of the BBC's board of governors Lord Grade said the corporation "suffers more and more from a lack of understanding the value of money". He told BBC2's Newsnight: "The cheque comes in every April, £3.5 billion, and if you don't have to earn the money and you've got that quantity of money it's very hard to keep a grip on the reality of the value of money."

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