Entertainment & Arts

Mark Thompson hits back in BBC severance pay row

Mark Thompson
Image caption Mark Thompson left the BBC in 2012

Former BBC director general Mark Thompson has said the BBC Trust knew about £949,000 in severance pay to his deputy Mark Byford.

Trust Chairman Lord Patten told the Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday that he had been "shocked and dismayed" by £25m in pay-offs to senior managers.

He added that if Mr Thompson was called before MPs, he would be "as interested as you are, why we didn't know."

But Mr Thompson said the Trust had been told "in writing, as well as orally".

Mr Thompson, who now works for the New York Times, was drawn into the row about severance payments for BBC executives following questioning by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) over £25m paid to 150 outgoing executives.

It followed the publication of a report earlier this month, in which the National Audit Office (NAO) criticised the corporation, saying the scale of the payments risked public trust.

'Lost the plot'

In its report, the NAO provided analysis of several case studies, one of which was the former deputy director general Mark Byford who was paid £949,000, which included £73,000 for unused leave.

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Media captionLord Patten: "It was a question of shock and dismay for us to discover how many had been beyond contractual"

BBC Trust members questioned by the committee on Wednesday about payments to Mr Byford and marketing director Sharon Baylay, said they had not been informed that the pay-offs went beyond contractual terms.

Lord Hall told the committee that the culture in the BBC that allowed these payouts was "accepted but was wrong".

"We'd lost the plot. We'd got bedevilled by zeros on salaries. There was not enough grip at the centre of the organisation. Things were devolved far too low down," he said.

In a statement, Mr Thompson said he was "looking forward to laying the facts in front of the Public Accounts Committee in person, but there are a couple of inaccuracies that emerged in yesterday's testimony to the PAC which I would like to clear up immediately".

'Kept informed'

He said the Trust had been kept informed of the severance packages.

"An email from my office to the head of the Trust unit makes this clear. Both this email and a detailed analysis of the value for money case for the redundancies were sent to the Trust days before the Executive Board remuneration committee met to consider the proposed packages," said Mr Thompson.

"I had made sure that the Trust were aware of and understood all potentially contentious issues," he said.

In 14 of the cases looked at by the NAO, the payments far exceeded the amount to which the outgoing executives were entitled.

Mr Thompson also pointed out that he was not involved in any negotiations over the severance package given to former BBC controller Roly Keating, who was given a pay-off despite leaving for another position.

"If I had been consulted, I would not have approved it."

Mr Keating, who was appointed chief executive officer of The British Library, returned his £375,000 payment after learning it had not been properly authorised.

A statement from the Trust said that the material Mr Thompson referred to in his statement was shared with the NAO for the purposes of its review.

"They noted that the Trust had no role in the approval process but were being given this material for information and to provide assurance that payments to Mark Byford and Sharon Baylay were to be made on the basis of contractual terms.

"The NAO's conclusions were the basis for our evidence given to the PAC yesterday and like the NAO, we see nothing in this correspondence which disproves any of their conclusions," the statement continued.

"As the chairman said yesterday, we will be interested to hear Mark Thompson's version of events when he appears before the PAC."

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