Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

BBC 'spent £22 million on pay-offs'

The new BBC director general Lord Hall said dropping the gagging clauses would make it easier for staff to come forward

The BBC has spent more than £22 million in pay-offs known as compromise agreements over the last six years, it has been reported.

Most of the deals included so-called gagging clauses - confidentiality agreements - which MPs, including the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, have been campaigning to get stopped within the NHS, radio station LBC 97.3 reported.

The £22 million figure does not include the BBC's legal costs nor the "independent legal advice" that the BBC urges its employees to take prior to entering into one of these agreements, said LBC, which put in a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to the corporation.

Out of more than 500 pay-offs in the six-year period, 36 were more than £150,000, 62 were more than £100,000 and two were more than £500,000, it added.

The station said it put in the FoI request on April 15 and on May 2 the BBC announced it was abolishing gagging clauses from future BBC contracts. This was part of the measures introduced following the BBC's Savile inquiry, which found that some staff were still too scared to speak out about sexism and bullying at the corporation.

The new BBC director general Lord Hall said dropping the gagging clauses would make it easier for staff to come forward.

Lord Hall spoke to a reporter from the station outside the BBC and said: "Well I introduced, when I first came here, a cap on severance payments to all members of staff of £150,000..."

The reporter asked, "And why £150,000?" and Lord Hall said: "Because that actually measures absolutely almost to the pound with civil servants' rates, I thought that was appropriate and I feel very, very strongly - very, very strongly - that we should be looking at the way we spend the public's money as licence fee as if it was our own."

A BBC spokeswoman said: "In May the BBC confirmed that it will be removing derogatory statement restrictions also known as 'gagging clauses' from future BBC contracts and compromise agreements. It should be noted that these restrictions do not prevent protected disclosure, often called 'whistleblowing', which has a clear status in law.

"The use of compromise agreements is standard practice in employment law and is designed to protect both parties. The BBC always insists that individuals take independent legal advice before entering them. BBC director general Tony Hall has committed to cap severance payments to £150,000 in all circumstances from September."

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