The BBC isn't wasting our money

Sighs of relief at the BBC today, after the latest Trust review decided Jonathan Ross isn't over-paid at all...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Just days after having its knuckles rapped for going £30m over-budget on its website, management will have been looking forward to the BBC Trust’s latest report even less than the finale of ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ on Saturday. But although Simon Cowell and co may have taken BBC rival ‘I’d Do Anything’ to the cleaners, the Trust has been rather more accommodating – apparently the BBC’s top earners are not being paid above the market rate after all...

The BBC Trust, an independent body set up to make sure the BBC is making good use of our licence fees, was called into action when word leaked out that some of the BBC’s top stars were on huge pay deals – Jonathan Ross, for example, is supposedly paid £6m a year for the privilege of asking the Leader of the Opposition whether he’d ever indulged in a spot of onanism over Margaret Thatcher.

However, its report concluded that ‘there is no evidence that the BBC is paying more than the market price for leading TV talent when it finds itself directly competing with rivals to secure their services’ – in fact, 'in some cases it may well be paying less'. The trust acknowledged that the BBC’s top screen stars are ‘special people doing special jobs’, so they should be paid accordingly – and with competition from other channels and pressure from licence-payers increasing, the BBC has to be able to fight its corner, it says. Not exactly ground-breaking analysis, but it could have been a lot worse for Auntie.

On the other hand, it didn’t get a totally clean bill of health. The Trust has suggested various areas for improvement – it wants the BBC to be more willing to walk away from deals that get too expensive; to use its market influence to push down prices; to stop using cost-per-viewer as the main metric (because it skews decision-making in favour of the likes of Wossy); and to do a better job of explaining its decisions. It plans to do a follow-up study in a year to check that the BBC is doing what it’s told.

So it’s another headache for the BBC’s management, which is already under scrutiny after spending £110m on its website last year (way above its upper limit of £81.6m). As the Trust points out, even the most popular stars often polarise opinion – so even those who attract big audiences and high salaries will attract an equally vocal crowd arguing that they’re a complete rip-off. They didn’t mention any names, but Chris Moyles leaps to mind...

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