Page last updated at 17:11 GMT, Friday, 17 July 2009 18:11 UK

Yentob's 1,600 BBC dinner claim

Alan Yentob
The BBC's Imagine creative director Alan Yentob also hosts Imagine

BBC creative director Alan Yentob spent almost £1,600 of licence-fee payers' money on an "executive Christmas dinner", newly-published expenses show.

They also reveal that, in 2006, BBC Vision director Balraj Samra bought a £827.02 dinner for the then Culture Minister Tessa Jowell and BBC managers.

And BBC One controller Jay Hunt spent £666 on Molton Brown gift sets.

The BBC said the latest disclosures were "another important step" towards greater accountability.

Christmas dinner

The publications follow the release last month - also revealed as the result of Freedom of Information requests - of the expenses of the BBC's top executives.

They include £2,236.90 claimed by director general Mark Thompson to fly him and his family back from a holiday in Sicily last October to deal with the fall-out following calls made to actor Andrew Sachs by Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand on Radio 2.

As with that data, the expenses published on Friday are those paid for by staff out of their own pocket before claiming back.

Tessa Jowell
Tessa Jowell was culture minister from June 2001 to June 2007

They do not include any flights, hotels or other purchases booked directly through the BBC.

A BBC spokesman said the £1,579.63 Christmas dinner claimed for by Mr Yentob had been for 27 people "at a modestly-priced pizza restaurant".

It was "part of any senior leader's role to engage with people of all levels" and this would inevitably "sometimes involve drinks, meals or hospitality", the spokesman added.

The BBC's contribution to staff parties is now limited to £25 per head, he added.

Mr Yentob also claimed £160 for a dinner to discuss the contract of TV chef Nigella Lawson.

The BBC spokesman said it was sometimes best to conduct such meetings "privately and informally over lunch or a drink rather than in a formal or public setting", but that the corporation took "great care to ensure value for money for licence fee payers".

Mr Samra, BBC Vision's director of vision operations, claimed for the dinner with Ms Jowell and her colleague Jon Zef on 17 May 2006.

The BBC spokesman said the dinner had been "an introductory meeting with 10 senior BBC executives" and had acted as "an editorial briefing" about the work of the corporation.

'Viewing commitments'

On August 1 2008, meanwhile, commissioning editor Mark Bell claimed £1,101.60 for a flight for "a holiday delayed due to viewings".

This had been "due to viewing commitments and late changes" to the BBC One documentary series Super Doctors, which began on 21 August that year.

The BBC spokesman said Mr Bell had to miss five days of a family holiday in Malaysia to make sure the show "was as good as it possible could be for the audience".

"As Mark had lost the opportunity to fly with his family on the ticket he purchased, it was agreed that the BBC would fund a replacement flight so that he could join his family on holiday once the task was finished," the spokesman added.

The flight had been slightly more expensive because it was a late booking, he added.

In the data for the BBC's top executives, released last month, money spent on hospitality attracted the most headlines.

They included £1,137.55 claimed by former head of audio and music Jenny Abramsky for a dinner to celebrate Terry Wogan's knighthood in 2005.

We are delivering a step-change in the information we disclose to the public and we believe this will make us one of the most transparent and open public service organisations in Britain
BBC chief operating officer Caroline Thomson

Claims for hospitality also feature prominently in the latest batch.

On 12 December 2006, BBC One controller Jay Hunt - who was then daytime controller - claimed £666 for 14 Molton Brown gift sets "for Christmas".

And in March 2006, then controller of drama commissioning Jane Tranter claimed £39 for a gift for Doctor Who star David Tennant as well as £55 for his co-star Billie Piper.

The spokesman said offerings were made as "BBC gifts".

"This is to recognise a particular achievement such as the end of a successful series, the winning of an award or the birth of a new baby," he added.

Chief operating officer Caroline Thomson said: "We are delivering a step-change in the information we disclose to the public and we believe this will make us one of the most transparent and open public service organisations in Britain."

The BBC would now "routinely publish large amounts of information relating to the pay and expenses of our top executives", she added.



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