This is why BBC contracts need to be scrutinised before a resignation


by Robert Sharp    
11:17 pm - November 11th 2012

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The BBC’s Director General has resigned after only 54 days in post. Now there is concern that his £450,000 ‘Golden Handshake’ is disproportionate.

These controversies are not new. The payouts to bankers like Sir Fred Goodwin are well known, as is the money paid to Amnesty International’s outgoing Secretary General Irene Khan.

Complaints at these payouts comes from both the Right and the Left, depending on the recipient. The outrage is usually met with calls for the institution in question to take measures to recover the money somehow.

I have never had much sympathy with such demands, which seek to shut the door after the horse has bolted. We live by the rule of law in this country, and contracts must be adhered to. Top executives tend to be quite adept at securing the right assurances and insurances in their contracts, should they be asked to leave early.

The time to be outraged about Golden Handshakes is before the contract is signed. Whenever a high profile appointment is made at a Ministry or Quango, conscientious citizens and civic minded members of the Fourth Estate should scrutinise the terms of the contract.

In particular, they should ask “what is the potential payout if this person is forced to resign due to mismanagement?” and “what is the payout if this person resigns after only 50 days in post?”

A routine public spotlight at this stage would serve to inhibit egregious terms in such contracts. It may also serve to explain the circumstances where a large payout would be appropriate.

As luck would have it, we’ll have the perfect opportunity to do this soon, when a new BBC Director General is appointed.

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About the author
Robert Sharp designed the Liberal Conspiracy site. He is Head of Campaigns at English PEN, a blogger, and a founder of digital design company Fifty Nine Productions. For more of this sort of thing, visit Rob's eponymous blog or follow him on Twitter @robertsharp59. All posts here are written in a personal capacity, obviously.
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Reader comments


The current scandals about sloppy reporting and research at the BBC do not surprise me at all: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2012/06/01/research-at-the-bbc/

He deserves every penny. Actually I think he should get more.

No way he should have gone. Newsnight didn’t even name the individual.

Before people start jumping around at the size of Entwhistle’s payoff it does occur to me to ask what proportion of that payoff might relate to the 23 years service he put in at the BBC before his 54-day stint as Director-General.

As things stand Entwhistle has walked away with a year’s salary for his 23 years services plus, one would assume, whatever pension pot he might also have accrued over that time.

Irene Khan trousered four times her annual salary as a payoff from AI after putting in only eight years with the organisation as Secretary General, while the issue with Fred the Shred related solely to the size of pension pot and a bunch of complicated arrangements that inflated it, at one point, to £16 million.

@ Chris – I agree this absolutely stinks.

One week the BBC is criticised for NOT reporting alllegations of abuse against Saville. The next week the BBC gets hammered for reporting allegations against an individual they don’t name. Further work by journalists in all publications reveals serious questions need to be answered in relation to the first Waterhouse investigation. And then we are supposed to forget about when it turns out that one of the alleged perpretators isn’t the person that was never named in the first place, and that instead of a politician, those who got away with it are ‘only’ local solicitors, businessmen and police officers.

This is like David Kelly and Gilligan over again, proof that the BBC is a spineless institution easily bullied by the establishment. No editor could possibly make independant judgements on controversial stories in this climate. They simply cannot win. If I was Paxman I’d say fuck you, move to the US, and publish a lengthy book entitled ‘things I would like to have broadcast but couldn’t because England is a place where freedom of the press applies only when you do hatchet jobs on poor people’.

Why should this guy lose his income just because the BBC are too timid to stand up to the Tories and the political elite?

There was no incompetence or mismanagement in this case. All that happened is that the Tories and their friends got a bit jumpy regarding the legitimate reporting of a story. The basic facts were true; an allegation was made against a Tory and the BBC reported that allegation. God forbid that the media were used in a witch hunt against the innocent.

What I find particularly sickening in this case was the readiness of the political elite in all the major parties willingness to close ranks to protect their own from the victim in this case.

The top of our society have an all too cozy relationship with each other and the ease of the alleged opposition to spring to the defence of the Tory was completely over the top. This is what puts decent people off politics, when one of the Tories comes a cropper, the ‘Left’ cave in and fall into line. So a guy with less than two months service is forced to fall on his sword for no other reason than to provide a human sacrifice to the rich and powerful elite. That is the true bias of the BBC, not Left or Right but power vs the powerless. No-one expected Chris Patten to resign when the woman at the centre of housing benefit as a lifestyle choice was misrepresented, nor where the BBC wrong to report Mathew Kelly being charged with child abuse, or a Star from the ‘Red Dwarf era’ was accused of rape. No, these allegations were okay because Tories were not involved. But a letter from a lawyer and the rich elite walk away and make all this stuff disappear. If you well enough connected all you need do is issue a ‘sorry, no thank you’ and a potential lawsuit and they can just slink away.

What if that was me or any of us? Would we get away with issuing an expensive letter? No, because legal aid does not cover being accused of being child molesters, we have to go through the whole shooting match and end up on a DNA register, irrespective of the merits of a case. So, it doesn’t matter how true or false the allegations are, it only matters how well connected you are.

One Nation Britain? Yes, if you happen to be extremely rich. The rest of us? Go and fuck off.

“What I find particularly sickening in this case was the readiness of the political elite in all the major parties willingness to close ranks to protect their own from the victim in this case.”

Two exceptions. The Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru. The latter being particulalry excellent at this – as a wales based story – all week.

Bear this in mind when it comes to 2014.

Hi folks- thanks for the comments.

More information has emerged since I wrote this yesterday. Apparently the pay-off amount is double what the contract stipulates. I hears that BBC paid more because it is what they would have paid, had they chosen to terminate his contract, rather than him resigning. Not sure how that works. Can anyone shed any light on the rationale?

Another thing- Harriet Harman suggested that Entwhistle should “search his conscience” and take less. This tactic, where politicians put moral pressure on executives, makes me a bit uneasy. The whole point of contracts is surely to deliver certainty into the question of pay. If Harman!”s suggestion is taken up, it sends the signal that any public sector contract is vulnerable to the political climate of the moment. I reckon people like the Governor of the Bank of England will be particularly worried that their salary will suddenly become vulnerable to change, and they will come under moral pressure to take less. This is not the way to run things.

I hears that BBC paid more because it is what they would have paid, had they chosen to terminate his contract, rather than him resigning. Not sure how that works. Can anyone shed any light on the rationale?

The usual I expect – Entwhistle walks, increased payoff secures the BBC an NDA and a waiver on further litigation for unfair dismissal or breach of contract.

This tactic, where politicians put moral pressure on executives, makes me a bit uneasy. The whole point of contracts is surely to deliver certainty into the question of pay.

When Cameron’s PMOS was pressed over the resettlement grant given to MPs who stood down or lost their seat at the last election – minimum 6 months salary rising to 12 months for long-serving MPs, the official line was that this was a ‘contractual entitlement’.

Harman’s just displaying the usual mix of crass populism and rank hypocrisy.

Patten wanted a patsy and the BBC paid for it. It’s not going to make the anti-BBC press stop, in fact it could embolden them. I do hope, though, that it serves as a wake-up call and a new DG with backbone is found from outside the organisation (it’s all gone to pot since Greg Dyke was forced out).

Could it be that Entwhistle is the first victim in the fight back by the people that covered up the child abuse scandal in the first place?

10. Derek Hattons Tailor

Problem is a contract is a private arrangement between 2 parties, you have no legal right to know what’s in it. This is why Harperson ranting on about companies revealing pay inequalities never got anywhere, it would require turning centuries of tort law on its head.

The problem with the BBC is the same problem that most of our public sector has; endless “reform” has destroyed management and replaced it with managerialism; a tangled, directionless mess with multiple agendas instead of clear goals, no clear lines of responsibility, and only the vaguest notion of accountability.

11. Churm Rincewind

@ Jim : “There was no incompetence or mismanagement in this case…an allegation was made against a Tory and the BBC reported that allegation.”

Actually there was huge incompetence and mismanagement in play in this instance. No allegation whatsoever has ever been made against Lord MacAlpine by anyone outside the Twittersphere. A point which those who were abused have readily made clear.

@11 – and the BBC never reported that. They didn’t name anybody. And the impact of the report has been around 50 new cases reported to the children’s comissioner, and a fresh look into Waterhouse – which anyone can see was clearly too restricted.

There was no incompetence or mismanagement in this case…an allegation was made against a Tory and the BBC reported that allegation.

It was a staggeringly incompetent report. In his original evidence for the Waterhouse inquiry, the accuser said that he thought the accused was dead. That ought to have flagged a potential problem with identifying him as a living former Thatcher aide. When the accuser was actually shown a picture of the accused, he instantly retracted the allegation – was the budget really not big enough to run to a photo?

Above all, given that the initial intention was to name the accused on TV, why on earth wasn’t he contacted by Newsnight to comment on the allegation? That’s monstrously bad journalism.

It was a story that belonged on the David Icke website, not on the BBC.

@ Robert

“If Harman!”s suggestion is taken up, it sends the signal that any public sector contract is vulnerable to the political climate of the moment. I reckon people like the Governor of the Bank of England will be particularly worried that their salary will suddenly become vulnerable to change, and they will come under moral pressure to take less. This is not the way to run things.”

I too am very worried that people getting paid hundreds of thousands of pounds in public money for doing their job badly will feel pressured to take less. It’s heartbreaking. The plight of a class of managers who only get paid far, far more than most of the public, with far, far more in the way of perks and pensions, currently generously underwritten by the rest of the population, should be central to our concerns at this difficult time for them. In fact they deserve even more money. Entwistle has sweated for in 54 gruellng days what will take me a mere 40 years to earn. He should be able to earn in that time what it would take me a century to get. Let’s here it for the deserving rich pigs. Viva crony socialism.

@ planeshift

“They didn’t name anybody.”

They strongly hinted where people might find the name, and people duly looke and found it. The fact that they didn’t actually name him might satisfy man-in-the-pub logicians, but it will be no legal defence in a defamation case, even though it may satisfy teenage logicians. McAlpine will win any case against the BBc and rightly so.

If I said a female Liverpudlian popular singer from the sixties who in the 80s hosted a dating show on television had stolen my garden gnomes, it would be no defence in any court to say I hadn’t actually named Cilla Black.

If you or others on this thread were on the receiving end of such insinuations about such serious crimes, you wouldn’t be being so snide and disingenuous about it.

“And then we are supposed to forget about when it turns out that one of the alleged perpretators isn’t the person that was never named in the first place, and that instead of a politician, those who got away with it are ‘only’ local solicitors, businessmen and police officers.”

This is becomeig a popular meme with no basis whatsoever in obejective reality. No one has argued that we should “forget about it” as a result of this. No one at all.

All allegations of child abuse should be properly investigated, whether they are politicians, DJ’s, solictors, council employees, etc etc. No police investigations are going to cease, no assiduous journalists will stop digging, just because the BBC and a crew of idiots on the internet got this badly wrong.

Finding the truth and bringing perpetrators to justice is not achieved by peddling inaccurate smears against any old person to hand. Yes, gasp, even if they are, gasp Tories it’s still wrong if they are innocent, and you would be less blase if it was you or someone you approve of getting that treatment.

Lamia: “If I said a female Liverpudlian popular singer from the sixties who in the 80s hosted a dating show on television had stolen my garden gnomes, it would be no defence in any court to say I hadn’t actually named Cilla Black. ”

As an ancient, the dark hints in that Newsnight progamme about paedophile abuse by unnamed but supposedly prominent Conservatives in a North Wales care home reminded me instantly of the technique of the late Senator McCarthy of Wisconsin in the 1950s. For reasons that were finally dismissed as no more than self-promotion, he would claim to have lists of Communists and Communist-sympathisers working in the US State Department.

The claims were credible in that Communist sympathisers, like Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess, had been working in Britain’s Foreign Office on Anglo-American affairs and had then mysteriously disappeared in the spring of 1951 only to reappear some time later in Moscow.

It was known that British scientists – like Karl Fuchs – who had worked on the Manhatten project at Los Alamos, had passed highly secret details about making atom bombs to the Soviet Union. Public opinion in America became paranoid about Communism and spies.

McCarthy played to that state of mind and fanned the hysteria without actually having any new, hard evidence. Congress set up a committee to investigate UnAmerican Activities, which became notorious for subpoenaing witnesses to attend Congressional committee hearings and testify not only to their own “radical” political activities during the depresssion years of the 1930s but to name the names of others who had been so engaged. Refusal to testify and name names would lead to loss of employment.

That hysteria was a prevailing influence on American public opinion through the 1950s. It tends to be forgotten nowadays that Kennedy successfully campaigned in the 1960s Presential election claiming that President Eisenhower had allowed a “missile gap” to develop between America and the Soviet Union to America’s disadvantage.

Much later, long after Kennedy had been assassinated in 1963, it emerged that there was, indeed, a missile gap but to American advantage. The reason the Soviets had been trying to insall missiles in Cuba in 1962 was to close the gap. One of the reasons the Soviets had to back down was that they had only 4 inter-continental missiles capable of reaching targets in America – whereas America had medium range missiles, based in Turkey, capable of reaching Soviet targets as well as a fleet of strategic bombers. Kennedy was playing a game of brinkmanship with winning cards and Khrushchev duly backed off.

For any knowledgeable observer of those times, the Newsnight journalism about paedophiles reeked of McCarthyite technique. It played to understandable public phobias about paedophiles and impugned a string of names, which were duly publicised on the internet, but then had no hard evidence to substantiate the claims made. This was disreputable TV journalism of the worst kind.

@14. Lamia: “Entwistle has sweated for in 54 gruellng days what will take me a mere 40 years to earn.”

Entwistle is paid off a lot of money for two reasons.

One is that he worked for the BBC for 23 years. Assume that in his previous job he was paid £225,000 per year, or half the salary for his final job. A voluntary severance pay off would have been almost a year’s pay (£200,000). That is not “special” payment; that is how much businesses pay to get rid of people.

The second factor is that he took on a job which made him vulnerable to be sacked (QED) so he was paid for the risk. Having been “sacked” by the BBC, there aren’t many other jobs available for 50 year old TV executives.

If you want to create a hire ‘em and fire ‘em environment, you have to pay for it. Me, I think it is a stupid way to run an organisation, but if you run it that way, you have to cough up.

well said, Bob.

What also doesn’t help is the imputation that if you think the treatment of McAlpine was bad journalism and dreadful treatment, that you want the whole phenomenon of child abuse covered up, or rich/Tory paedophiles protected, or the BBC to be sold to Rupert Murdoch, or the victims to go unheard etc. It’s untrue, it’s contemptible and its just brainless Salem stuff.

As Tim J said, the BBC ought to have at least checked the identity of the accused properly. Instead of fact-checking and arse-covering they were smugly tweeting about how they were going to expose a top Tory. Clueless stuff.

@ charlieman

“That is not “special” payment; that is how much businesses pay to get rid of people.”

Er, in the real world most people don’t get paid anything for being sacked for incompetence.

“Having been “sacked” by the BBC, there aren’t many other jobs available for 50 year old TV executives.”

Cry me a river and pull the other one. There is a whole highly paid ‘meritocratic’ class which steps nimbly between oen bloated organisation and another, and between public and private sectors, being by and large ineffectual and getting paid gorotesquely large sums of money. Entwistle’s place in that charmed circle is safe. I’m sure he still has plenty of friends in high places and will be back, probably running some large institution into the ground, after a bit of gardening leave.

Threads like this reveal what a lot of cant many of you are talking when subjects like actual poverty come up. The gap between rich and poor has grown because of the bloating of a mutually-assisting managerial class of which Entwistle is as much of a member as Andy Hornby and Fred Goodwin are, as Lee Jasper was as Livingstone’s advisor, and as Chris Patten and others are.

It has nothing to do with political affiliation or even public or private sector, it is to do with keeping themselves in and the little people out. They have been increasingly milking the system, taking that of which even a fraction could transform the precarious lives and livelihoods of many much, much poorer of the population – i.e. most of it. Do you even know what the average national wage is? And it what sane world is the (inept) head of a public broadcaster paid 3 times the salary of the prime minister? It is greed, and it is indefensible.

“If you want to create a hire ‘em and fire ‘em environment, you have to pay for it.”

In case you hadn’t noticed, until now we’ve been paying for a ‘pay them a lot, don’t fire ‘em, and they’ll get increasingly complacent and screw up’ environment at the BBC.

Lamia: “Having been ‘sacked’ by the BBC, there aren’t many other jobs available for 50 year old TV executives.”

I’m not convinced about that. Companies, especially lobbying companies, are increasingly seeking the advice of experienced media savvy professionals and for good reason.

Why else would Cameron hire Coulson as Director of Government Communications and the BBC news man, Craig Oliver, to replace Coulson after he had resigned. The BBC is increasingly outsourcing content production and Channel 4 is mostly all outsourced. There are umpteen other TV and radio channels. The name of the investigative reporter for the Channel 4 programmes about the Catholic priests convicted of paedophile abuse occasionally pops up here as a contributor.

TV journalism is very potent. That is why having a media savvy adviser is important for companies. This is a current graphic example: on the news on Russian TV, prime minister Medvedev has appeared saying President Putin’s health is absolutely fine, really, and despite those ill-founded rumours to the contrary:
http://rt.com/news/medvedev-putin-health-problems-623/

Personally, I didn’t know of those rumours about Putin’s health but now Medvedev has mentioned it . . . Now suppose Medvedev appears on TV again next week to reassure listeners about Putin’s health, and the week after.

@19. Lamia: “Er, in the real world most people don’t get paid anything for being sacked for incompetence.”

Personally, I like to read about tribunals and evidence and frippery like that before I determine incompetence. Without that data, I have to conclude that George Entwistle is a victim. As it stands at the moment, George Entwistle’s failure is about an interview with John Humphrys.

“Cry me a river and pull the other one.”

The fact that George Entwistle is well compensated for his being sacked is unimportant. The problem is that he may have been used as a scape goat or that his pay off may be used to conceal a more significant BBC dilemma. I’m interested in truth and justice which is a lot more valuable than £450,000 of BBC licence fee money.

“Threads like this reveal what a lot of cant many of you are talking when subjects like actual poverty come up.”

I never mentioned poverty in this thread.

There are important nitty-gritty issues for the BBC about the chain of news command which had approved that Newsnight programme for broadcasting. George Entwistle wasn’t in the chain but is “taking responsibility”.

Something like that is an embedded tradition in Japan’s corporate culture but I didn’t think it was part of the Anglo-Saxon culture.

We are still left with the mystery of why did Greg Dyke have to resign as BBC DG in the aftermath of that Andrew Gilligan interview with John Humphrys on the BBC Today programme in which Gilligan had suggested that the Blair government had “sexed up” the dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass drestruction that was presented by Blair to Parliament on 24 September 2002. We now know that Gilligan was on to something real and important.

@ Bob B

“Lamia: “Having been ‘sacked’ by the BBC, there aren’t many other jobs available for 50 year old TV executives.”

I’m not convinced about that.”

That wasn’t me, I was quoting (and disagreeing with) another poster.

I agree entirely with the gist of your post.

@ Charlieman

“Without that data, I have to conclude that George Entwistle is a victim.”

Do you assume every person who resigns from an organisation is ‘a victim’? Or just if they work for the BBC?

” As it stands at the moment, George Entwistle’s failure is about an interview with John Humphrys.”

No, it’s about failures BROUGHT TO LIGHT that interview. One of those was failing to ensure that any potentially explosive revelation, especially, under the circumstances, about child abuse, and especially by Newsnight, was signed off by Entwistle first. The failure came before the interview.

“The fact that George Entwistle is well compensated for his being sacked is unimportant.”

A backtrack from the untrue generalisation:

“That is not “special” payment; that is how much businesses pay to get rid of people.”

We are making some progress.

” I’m interested in truth and justice which is a lot more valuable than £450,000 of BBC licence fee money.”

False dichotomy. It ought to be possible to have truth and justice AND NOT have to pay someone off £450,000.

“I never mentioned poverty in this thread.”

I didn’t say you did. But I look forward to seeing if the attitudes of the defenders of Entwistle here change when (other fat cats’) fat cat pay next comes up on here.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – This is why BBC contracts need to be scrutinised before a resignation http://t.co/zIkoUP4u

  2. Nicholas Gilby

    Liberal Conspiracy – This is why BBC contracts need to be scrutinised before a resignation http://t.co/zIkoUP4u

  3. Louise Norton

    "@libcon: This is why BBC contracts need to be scrutinised before a resignation http://t.co/QSZGxBo8&quot; < all top cat contracts

  4. H A

    This is why #BBC contracts need to be scrutinised before a resignation http://t.co/2oi6UGjB @legendryz

  5. Mark

    This is why BBC contracts need to be scrutinised before a resignation | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/Q8cgKvvy via @libcon





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