The BBC is a publicly-funded entity run for the lavish benefit of its employees. What else are we to make of the news that the broadcaster spends less than half of its money on programmes for licence fee payers while the rest goes to those lucky enough to work there? Plus tea. Lots of tea.
According to figures released Sunday night, just £2.4billion of the BBC’s eye-watering £5.1billion annual budget went on ‘public service content’ in the year to April 2014. Most of the remaining cash was swallowed up by costs that included running its buildings, paying middle-managers and services such as human resources, public relations and marketing. All financed by the British public, courtesy of the standard colour TV licence fee of £145.50.
The Daily Mail has revealed that the corporation also pumped money into its commercial arm, BBC Worldwide and BBC Global News, producing content specifically for audiences overseas. But only £217million was spent on the essential job of actually transmitting the programmes around Britain.
Clearly the BBC is an organisation that has great trouble in separating what is good for itself and what is good for its viewers.
According to the Daily Mail, MPs said the figures were ‘staggering’ and called for a parliamentary inquiry. Tory MP Bill Cash said: “It’s just mind-blowing. I can’t begin to imagine how they can justify it.
“This revelation demonstrates the need for a radical overhaul of the BBC. The matter must be referred immediately to the Public Accounts Committee.”
Conservative Stephen Hammond, a member of the Public Accounts Committee during the last Parliament, said: “I would have expected at least three quarters of their money to be spent on programmes that licence fee payers see.”
Labour MP Helen Goodman agreed. She said: ‘Either they’re very inefficient or they’ve got a very bad accounting system. They’ve obviously not got the balance right and since the licence fee is obligatory, we do need to be able to demonstrate how these costs go to service viewers.’
Here are just a few examples of the sorts of prodigious waste that the BBC has sprayed away over the last decade alone. This, from an organisation with 100 members of staff who earn more than the prime minister and at least 12 BBC TV managers who have the word ‘controller’ in their official title.
- £230,000 on tea in 2012
- £470,300 went in the severance payment pocketed by former director general George Entwistle on his departure
- £9,194 on booze already in 2015
- £48,000 towards the cost of a single sofa and news set at Salford HQ
- £89m towards the recurrent costs of maintaining New Broadcasting House
- £369m in value of payoffs to departing employees over the last eight years
- £100,000 is the WEEKLY spend on management consultants and PR advisers
A BBC spokesman said of the spending figures: “This is a completely misleading comparison which ignores basic costs like getting TV or radio programmes into people’s homes, newsrooms and edit suites, without which we wouldn’t be able to broadcast, and script and story development, without which we wouldn’t have any shows.
“Licence fee payers rightly expect value for money and the reality is that more than 90 per cent of spending we control is on content-related costs while we’ve made savings of £1.1billion a year.”
Broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby was similarly comfortable. He criticised the BBC’s ‘enemies’ and warned against further cuts to the licence fee, which is set at £145.50 a year. He admitted there were ‘things wrong with the BBC’, saying that its ‘bureaucracy can still be slimmed’.
But he told RadioTimes.com: ‘The nation would lose massively if the BBC were to face any kind of demise. I believe that while there are powerful vested interests who would like to see the BBC denied a licence fee, without a licence fee the BBC could not do what it does.’
All of which confirms the conventional wisdom that organisations exist to benefits the organisers. The appointment of Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, who has called the licence fee ‘worse than the poll tax’, will hopefully mean the BBC will face major changes to the way it is funded.
Perhaps a good place to start would be a five-year freeze on licence fee payments and a policy of BBC cuts right across the board. Given that less than half the yearly spend actually goes on programmes for British viewers, we are hardly going to see any difference in what is transmitted during that time of imposed austerity.
Dad’s Army anyone?