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BBC chiefs argue over pay-offs
Former BBC director general Mark Thompson speaks to the Commons Public Accounts Committee at Portcullis House
The confusion at the heart of the BBC's decision-making has been laid bare as its executives - past and present - argued over who knew what and when about massive pay-offs 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 agreed a pay-off of almost £1 million to his former deputy, Mark Byford.
Margaret Hodge MP, who chairs the committee, 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 megabucks, not enough?"
Mr Thompson, who said he did not believe there was any "favouritism" in deciding pay-offs, said the pay-off to Mr Byford was needed so he would remain "focused" on his job and not be distracted. He told the committee that in his view Mr Byford's severance package represented "value for money" and he explained that he had been under "ferocious pressure" from the Trust to make savings by cutting senior staff.
Marcus Agius, former chairman of the BBC executive board remuneration committee, also described the pay-off to Mr Byford as "value for money".
Ms Hodge told the former banker that the committee "were astounded you took that view", saying: "The shareholders of the BBC are the licence fee-payers and I cannot for the life of me see how you can justify these levels of redundancy payments."
Mr Thompson said the decision for Mr Byford to leave the BBC with a total payout of £949,000 was part of a move to axe senior executives which would give the BBC "£19 million of savings for every year into the future" and he believed he "had the full support of the BBC Trust" to order it.
In written evidence published ahead of the meeting, Mr Thompson accused BBC Trust boss Lord Patten and trustee Anthony Fry of ''fundamentally misleading'' committee members at a previous hearing. Lord Patten said he wanted more time to prove the governing structure of the BBC could work and said there was "a cultural issue" of high pay that had to be dealt with and apologised for. He said one of his first jobs was a meeting to discuss executive pay where he made "a very simple point that the best cultural director in the world, Neil MacGregor, got £180,000 a year for running the British Museum. How many people at the BBC get paid more than that and how can we justify that?".
Ms Hodge said: "We all around the table feel it is broke. What are you going to change?"
Lord Patten cast doubt on a proposal that communications watchdog Ofcom should regulate the corporation, saying: "I can't imagine handing the regulatory power to Ofcom and Ofcom wanting to be involved in remuneration."