Should BBC talent earning more than prime minister have salaries published? MPs weigh in


BBC stars who earn more than the prime minister should be forced to publish their salaries, an influential group of MPs has said.

The Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee said there is "no good reason" for performers, presenters and executives to "hide" their pay if they earn more than the PM.

Should BBC stars earning more than the PM have their salaries published?
Should BBC stars earning more than the PM have their salaries published? (Liam McBurney/PA)

Acting committee chairman Damian Collins said it is "disingenuous" for the BBC to claim it needs confidentiality to prevent talent poaching by rival channels.

He also said there is no reason why the Government's plans for a new royal charter set the threshold for talent at £450,000, higher than that for executives.

Publishing a report on the proposals set out in the Government's BBC White Paper, Mr Collins said: "On the question of pay, the point is that all these salaries are paid by the licence fee payer, whether they are for broadcasters or BBC executives.

(Jonathan Brady/PA)
(Jonathan Brady/PA)

"Why should there be different rules for each? It's disingenuous to say confidentiality is needed to prevent poaching when in general everyone in the industry knows what everyone else is getting paid.

"The threshold should be the same for both executives and talent, the salary of anyone getting paid more than the prime minister should be published."

The MPs also criticised the appointment of Rona Fairhead as chairwoman of the new BBC unitary board until 2018 without an open public competition.

She currently heads the BBC Trust, which will be abolished under the White Paper plans, but she will have more operational responsibility in the new role as the effective head of the corporation, the committee said.

Rona Fairhead at the BBC
Chair of the BBC Trust Rona Fairhead (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The White Paper said the Government had decided Ms Fairhead should stay on as BBC chairwoman after the trust's abolition and she told the committee she had been asked by former prime minister David Cameron and ex-culture secretary John Whittingdale to work in that role.

Mr Collins said: "Ms Fairhead's experience with the trust and the benefits of continuity might well have favoured her in a proper, open recruitment process. But given the prestige of the new role it is likely that other strong candidates could have emerged.

"At any rate, it would not be appropriate for any minister, including even the prime minister, simply to offer her the job.

"Whatever rules for public appointments are finally settled on, there must always be a very good reason for not following due process. That was simply not the case here.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale.
Former culture secretary John Whittingdale (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

"There was no urgency: Rona Fairhead could have been asked to stay in post until the new charter came into operation. When the new arrangements for public appointments are in place, this sort of unusual appointment would likely be referred to the commissioner for review."

The committee also recommended the BBC sets up a "Scottish Six" news programme, anchored and broadcast from the country and with a running order of Scottish, UK and international stories.

Mr Collins said: "The six o'clock news in Scotland is currently split into two: the main news stories, whether international or relating to the UK (in whole or in part), are presented from London, while Scottish news is presented from Glasgow. In the post-devolution era, this can lead to network news programmes transmitted from London leading on several purely English stories - for instance on health, justice or education.

Damian Collins is chairing the committee
Damian Collins is chairing the committee (Gareth Fuller/PA)

"The BBC has already acknowledged that there is dissatisfaction with this situation. However, we believe that it is perfectly reasonable for editorial decisions on the running order for television news broadcasts in Scotland to be made in Scotland, and broadcast from Scotland, as they are already for radio."

A DCMS spokesman said: "The BBC produces world-class programming that is admired and respected by millions around the world.

"The BBC's next Charter will help it adapt to the changing digital world and continue to thrive into the future.

"The committee's report is a welcome contribution to the debate. We will study it in detail ahead of the publication of the draft Charter and Framework Agreement."

BBC director general Tony Hall
BBC director general Tony Hall (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

In a statement, the BBC Trust said the committee made an "important point" about the need for clarity in the division of roles between the new BBC board and Ofcom, the regulator, something the Trust has argued for.

It added that decisions about the future structure of the Six O'Clock News programme in Scotland should be free from political influence.

"We recognise this is an important topic on which many audience members have strong views and all aspects of the BBC's performance should be open to public debate - however it is vital that individual editorial decisions of this sort are made independently by the BBC itself, free from any political pressure or influence," the statement said.

The trust also defended the process behind Ms Fairhead's appointment, adding: "The chairman underwent a rigorous and open appointment process before being appointed in 2014, which was confirmed by the Commissioner for Public Appointments as a fair and open competition."