Page last updated at 09:59 GMT, Friday, 26 June 2009 10:59 UK

BBC's Thompson defends expenses

Mark Thompson
Thompson claims revelations will help BBC "maintain trust"

BBC director general Mark Thompson has said £350,000 in expenses claims paid out to the corporation's top executives was "reasonable and justified".

The claims included luxury hotels, vintage champagne, parties and a private aeroplane.

Mr Thompson also said he believed it was right to publish the salaries of executives, but not of BBC talent.

The Conservatives say the BBC should publish details of all salaries on the grounds of "transparency".

Speaking after a freedom of information request led to the BBC revealing details of its bosses' expenses, Mr Thompson insisted "every one" of the claims was "reasonable and justified".

He told the BBC: "I don't believe that I've yet seen any evidence that a single one of these line-by-line expenses has been in any way unjustified."


Mr Thompson also defended the £2,236.90 of public money he claimed to fly his family back from a holiday in Italy, when he returned to deal with the Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross radio scandal.

"I took the car, drove 150 miles to the airport, abandoning my family without a car in a hotel in Sicily. I think, rather understandably, they felt that, given the circumstances, they should come back too," he said.

The BBC boss was adamant that the pay of top talent - amounting to about 2% of the licence fee - should not be made public, because of the risk of a "talent drain".

Mr Thompson said: "Our belief is, a public officer of the BBC, someone like me, making decisions about public money, it's absolutely appropriate that people should see exactly what I spend.

They [the BBC] all think that they can have the best of both worlds
David Elstein

"[But] we worry that if it turns out that if you work for the BBC you get your pay disclosed, but if you work for ITV you don't, there will be a talent drain."

But Ed Vaizey, Conservative culture spokesman, said the BBC needed to be more accountable.

He said: "I don't accept Mark's argument that if you publish what the BBC pays its talent you will push up the price of that talent," he said.

"I think the BBC is a profoundly unaccountable organisation that is funded entirely by public money. There are profound public policy points here.

"I don't think the BBC should worry the public will suddenly turn on them, but we are entering this age of transparency."

On Thursday Mr Thompson pledged that "public expectations about openness" meant that the BBC would publish more details about its employees' pay and expenses in the future.

High salaries

Following the decision to reveal the expenses and salaries of the BBC's 50 top-earning managers, the corporation will now publish similar details on its top 100 executives and decision-makers every three months, starting this September.

Thursday's disclosures showed that 27 BBC executives earned more than the prime minister's £195,000 salary - led by Mr Thompson on £647,000 a year.

David Elstein, former chief executive officer of Channel 5, told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme that it was the high salaries that were most unacceptable.

"The expenses don't particularly worry me… but the salaries do worry me. The BBC is part of the civil service, frankly, it doesn't need to compete with the commercial sector.

"They all think that they can have the best of both worlds, the tremendous security of working in the public sector, and private sector comparisons for their salaries. It just shouldn't happen."

He added that the high wages damaged the BBC's case for asking for a licence fee increase.


Columnists commentators and bloggers reacted to the release of information on BBC expenses.

Martin Belam in the blog Curry Bet notes that in the first prints of the papers, BBC expenses dominated before the news of Michael Jackson's death.

Emily Bell in the Guardian said BBC expenses are not big when compared to the commercial sector, but the BBC isn't in the commercial sector:

A senior executive at a private profit-making broadcaster once told me that at a senior level you could expect to be allowed £25,000 a year in expenses and not too much scrutiny, which is twice as much as most of the senior executives at the BBC…But now is the time the change needs to be spelt out on cost-effective stationery and left on every desk in the organisation. Working at the BBC is not at all like working in the commercial sector. It never has been and hopefully it never will be.

Conor Dignam in the Mirror says there's no scandal in BBC expenses, unlike the MPs' expenses:

The disclosure of BBC managers' pay and expenses make for some juicy gossip, but in reality there's no great scandal here.

There is no smoking gun, no comparison with MPs, no need for anyone to fall on their sword.

In his blog, Tim Worstall agrees with Emily Bell and has an idea what would make claiming the expenses acceptable:

Why don't we take Polly [Toynee, Guardian columnist] up on her idea of offering a subscription option for the BBC: then they can have their salaries, their cufflinks and flowers….if, of course, people wish to pay for them.

The Independent's leading article renames the BBC the Bloated Broadcasting Corporation:

These lavish managerial expense claims are another indication of a Corporation that has grown obscenely divorced from the commercial realities of the sector in which it operates. Mr Thompson would do well to recognise that, unless this gap begins to close, the pressure for the Government to cut the BBC down to size will only grow stronger.

Tory Radio urges the BBC executives to pay back their expenses just as MPs did and suspects not everything claimed was necessary:

I wonder what the difference between a dinner to discuss current issues, a dinner to discuss current topics and a dinner to discuss current projects? Either way… lots of dinners and lunches come to that!

On the other hand, Septic Isle blog sees the expenses claims as reasonable:

To be sure, these are high-earning individuals, spending our money when they should perhaps be forking out for it themselves. Yet these claims in any other business of a similar size would barely raise an eyebrow, as the more honest outside commentators are admitting.

Damian Thompson writes in the Daily Telegraph that he is not surprised by the expenses claims and calls the BBC out of touch:

They celebrate diversity, all right: the diversity of groovy restaurants and private members' clubs in Soho. It's a particularly New Labour form of self-indulgence, in which everyone behaves - and dresses - as if it's still 1997.

In Cobden's Comments it is suggested that anger over BBC expenses is due to them being paid for by the licence fee:

I would have no problem if the BBC paid these types of salaries if they had earned their revenue in a competitive market. But it really is unacceptable that these incomes are being paid when their revenue is being drawn from a poll tax (the licence fee) which we all have to pay regardless of our income or how much BBC programming we actually watch.

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