Dear Feedback…

The BBC have been releasing details of how savings will be made now that the coalition have cut the budget.  One area of spending that has been of particular interest to the newspapers has been the corporation’s wage bill, and especially the wages and expenses of the very highly paid senior management and “talent”.

We were recently reminded of the BBC executive expenses after Ben Goldacre wrote a column about Benford’s Law — the fact that in large data sets which are distributed across multiple orders of magnitude the leading digit of data points is more frequently ‘1’ than ‘2’, ‘2’ than ‘3’, and so on.

BBC executive expenses are just such a data set, and two years ago John Graham-Cumming checked how well individual execs’ expense claims matched the ideal Benford set. These were how the frequencies of leading digits looked in the expense claims of former “director of people” Stephen Kelly and current “director of audio and music” Tim Davie compared to the expected frequencies:

A massive excess of expense claims with ‘8’ as the first digit. What were they? “Road/bridge tolls”. That is, the Congestion Charge. We pay — or were paying — BBC execs to drive their private cars around central London. (Road tolls stopped being listed in the reports at the same time as the BBC switched expenses systems (long before the WEZ abolition) — coincidence? Change in the reporting? Change in the rules?)

Chief Operating Officer Caroline Thompson isn’t claiming the CCharge, but she does have a large excess of claims in the £10-19 range — they’re taxi rides.

While a few BBC managers might need reminding that the Central Line stops right outside both Broadcasting House and Television Centre, I can imagine many legitimate reasons for busy BBC execs to be making these journeys by the chosen means, as they go about meeting important people all around town, and it’s only fair that they be compensated for legitimate expenses incurred fulfilling their duties. What doesn’t seem fair is that we pay them to drive twice.

When I mentioned the CCharge expenses story to a BBC friend and NUJ member, they replied with an FOI describing the current “car allowance” paid to BBC senior managers:

There are three levels of car allowance that senior managers are eligible for:

Executive Board members receive £12,900 per annum
SM1s receive £7,800 per annum
SM2s receive £4,800 per annum

These allowances have not been increased for at least 10 years.

The BBC’s Director-General, does not receive a car allowance. However the Director-General is entitled to a car and driver under earlier arrangements. The Director-General has no entitlement to a personal car allowance or fuel allowance.

Financial Year Total Paid in Car Allowance (£)
2008/2009 3,381,439
2009/2010 3,470,119
2010/2011 3,279,866

None of this is really news, none of it is unique to the BBC, and it’s not the greatest of scandals, I just find it weird. The recipients of this benefit can, so far as I can tell, spend it on whatever they like — no need for them to put in a claim for it, or prove that it’s being spent on cars rather than season tickets or bicycles or recreational drugs or whatever BBC managers like spending their money on. It’s really just an arbitrarily named “allowance”, one of several, in reality a part of their salary but hidden from the official figures and the BBC’s published wage bill. But the fact that senior managers expect a “car allowance” is another nice little statement of our car addicted society.

My NUJ friend pointed out that the execs are very interested in cutting the allowances bill. They’re particularly keen on the allowances paid to frontline staff for things like working unpredictable hours. So far, the car allowance has escaped the notice of the knife wielders.

2 thoughts on “Dear Feedback…”

  1. Why do we need to pay so many BBC staff at all, never mind paying them their car allowances?

    Do we really need rubbish like Eastenders and similar stuff which makes up at least 80% of the BBC’s output?

    I don’t think so.

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