As I Please – BBC, TSB & Abramovitch

Why not sell off the BBC?

In an earlier Holdenforth blog I looked at the case to privatise the BBC and I found the case to be compelling. It was and remains evident that the commendable standards laid down and operated by John Reith almost a century ago have long been abandoned. What we have now is overwhelmingly a part of the show business sector, but with none of the virtues of that sector and an unfortunate collection of weaknesses that are unique to the BBC.

I noted in my previous blog the catalogue of failures by the senior management of the BBC coupled with an unfortunate practice of recruiting its senior management from the Arthur Daley Business School.

These failures included the continued employment of Andrew Marr and Alan Yentob, despite the former having been flushed out for taking out an all-purpose injunction which forbade any reference to his not particularly interesting extra marital activities, and the latter for his questionable behaviour in and on behalf of the Kids Club Charity.

The initial handling by the BBC of the rumpus triggered when it dawned on some household names of the female persuasion that they were not receiving the same rewards as their male counterparts was unfortunate and inept as were the embarrassing attempts by the affluent male celebrities to accept pay cuts.

What has happened in recent weeks?

In no special order:

  1. The gender pay gap row at the top of the BBC rumbled on with the fiery furious female paupers masquerading as 21st century Tolpuddle Martyrs.

It was reported that that the Radio 4 presenter, Sarah Montague, was incandescent with rage when she became aware of the admittedly substantial earnings gap between herself and her male colleagues for doing what appeared to be the same job. It was this and similar examples that led Mrs May to put her weight behind the campaign to eradicate the gender pay gap.

The gap was undoubtedly there but I found myself unable to share the indignation of Mrs May in the context of the BBC.

Why so?

As the gender pay gap was hitting the headlines another and rather more serious and annoying pay gap was also in the news. It was reported that Sir Martin “Shortie” Sorrell, the boss of WPP, not content with his annual reward package of £50 million, had been using his initiative to charge a few items to his employer that ought to have paid for out of his own pocket. The resulting fuss was said to have been a contributory factor in his removal from office.

What’s my point? It is simply that the pay gap between Sir Martin at the top and the millions at the bottom on zero hours contracts is a problem that Mrs May ought to have considered before joining the more fashionable campaign for gender pay equality. After all there is no gender pay gap at the far more populous bottom of the pay league since both males and females are having to get by on next to nothing. The ones who are not Mrs May’s JAMs (the Just About Managing) but sadly the NoMans (The Not Managing) those whose descent into poverty proceeds remorselessly under Mrs May’s leadership.

Before I move on – what does it say about the perceptiveness of Sarah Montague that, on her own admission, she was unaware of what going in her own office. For me the most absurd episode occurred when Sarah Montague expressed her fury when she first grasped the size of the pay gap between herself and the super earners (all male) on the Today programme.

If she had been unaware of the gap – and I am happy to give her the benefit of the doubt on the matter – if she did not know what going on in the very office in which she worked – what does that tell us about her understanding of the wider world?

  1. Stars and their tax schemes

An article in the Daily Mail on April 20, 2018 informed us that “Some 200 BBC presenters are being investigated by HMRC after declaring themselves self-employed, meaning they were paid as contactors rather than staff… They worked through PSCs (personal service companies) which meant they enjoyed some tax relief while the BBC allegedly saved vast sums in national insurance contributions.”

The story has a sad ending: “In recent months scores of presenters have been told they owe thousands in unpaid historic tax despite staff saying they set up PSCs on the advice of their employers.”

To this outsider the story seems to be the familiar one of how those at the top collude to pay the minimum to HMRC and then arrange a sharing of the tax avoided / evaded between the two parties. A sound arrangement in the good undetected times but not much fun when the tax authorities get wise to the scam and set the hounds chasing the alleged miscreants.

  1. The BBC part in the police raid on the house of Sir Cliff Richard

The BBC is currently having a tricky time in court as it seeks to justify how it colluded with South Yorkshire police when the latter carried out a search of the home of Sir Cliff Richard following an accusation of sexual misconduct by – you tell me.

It is important to note that at no stage in the painfully protracted proceedings was Sir Cliff charged.

The South Yorkshire Police Authority has already acknowledged its serious errors in its handling of the allegations and compensated Sir Cliff accordingly. (By the way – who exactly foots the bill for the compensation that was paid by the police to Sir Cliff? And who will foot the bill if the court decides in favour of Sir Cliff in the current proceedings.)

As I write the prospects are not looking promising for the BBC.

I know what I hope the outcome will be – substantial damages for Sir Cliff plus a bollocking of the BBC by the bench.

Watch this space.

Let us now proceed from the particular to the general

Should the BBC be allowed to continue to strut around wearing the mantle of John Reith – a pampered Sui Generis in the media sector,

Or

Should it be sold off to the highest bidder and required to sink or swim in the private sector?

I believe that the case for the latter policy grows stronger by the day.

Is the BBC broadly true to its Reithian principles or is it committed to the mission statement that “there’s no business like show business”, as exemplified by the very title of “The Andrew Marr Show.?”

Holdenforth believes in providing proposals to cure the problems under discussion.

How to proceed? Here is how.

Solve the pay gap at the BBC – and most of the other ills that beset the BBC – by the simple expedient of privatising it, possibly via eBay.

Very soon after privatization, the celebrities passing themselves off as national treasures would grasp just what is meant by operating in a competitive environment. I suspect that a tiny minority might still be able to command high reward packages but that far more would learn from their agents that times are hard, that belts have to be tightened, that jobs are scarce, that the good old days are over, and what did you say your name is?

Mr Rupert Murdoch was understood to have been unimpressed by the performance of the editor of the Sunday Times during the fiasco of the purchase by Murdoch of the forged Hitler diaries. Accordingly, as Robert Harris told us in Selling Hitler, “In June1983, after discussions with Mr Rupert Murdoch it was announced that he (Frank Giles) was to retire prematurely as editor and assume the honorific title of editor emeritus… Giles asked what the title meant. ‘Its Latin, Frank,’  Murdoch is said to have replied. ‘The “e” means you’re out, and the “meritus” means you deserve it.’”

I imagine that Mr Murdoch – or someone – or anyone – of like mind would speedily bring realism to the running of the BBC.

One last point – God forbid that it be should be thought that I am a born again Thatcherite anxious to eradicate the entire public sector. To illustrate that this is not so: why not use the funds made available by the sale of the BBC to buy out the shareholders of the privatised rail sector?

The TSB Fiasco

A recent (May 21) article in the Mail noted that as a result of its recent online chaos, TSB “could face £16m in fines for its IT fiasco”.

Two points to note:

Firstly, who will pay the fines if and when they are imposed?

Secondly, the Mail reported that Mr Paul Pester, the insouciant boss man at TSB “is giving up a bonus of £2 million related to switching to the new computer system. But TSB could still pay him a separate annual bonus for 2018 of more than £1 million.” Surely the sentence should have read: “Mr Pester will be handed his P45 and told to clear his desk just as soon as the blank P45 can be filled in.

Only when I am reliably informed that this has been done to Pester and similar bunglers will I believe that the powers that be are serious about tackling the national problem of ineptitude at the highest levels of management.

Abramovitch and Windrush scandal – is there a connection?

It has been reported that the Russian Oligarch, Mr Roman Abramovitch, is experiencing problems in returning to the UK following his recent extensive business trips away from these shores. His entry visa had expired and the relevant authorities have been tardy for whatever reason(s) in supplying a new one.

The question is being whispered – might this delay be linked to the reported closeness between Mr Abramovitch and Mr Putin following the attempted murders in Salisbury and the use of chemical weapons in Syria?

My only minor point is that Mr Abramovitch now understands what it feels like when your anticipated arrival into the UK is stymied by Home office Byzantine procedures, a problem recently experienced by some of the Windrush generation.

Betts Off

Another recent Mail story (headlined ‘Unacceptable! MPs blast fat cat pay at disabled car scheme’) concerns the possibly excessive reward packages collected by Motability Operations Chief Executive Mike Betts and his senior colleagues. Mr Betts is paid £1.7 million per year and his fellow directors were pocketing salaries “totally out of whack with reality.”

It was not revealed if Mr. Betts or any of his colleagues were also benefiting from the heavily subsidised Motability arrangements.

A spokesperson for Motability said something to the effect that Motability had to pay market rate salaries in order to recruit and retain the necessary managerial talent.

Well he/she would say that wouldn’t he/she?

Holdenforth cannot leave matters in this delightfully vague setting. I suggest that the salaries collected by the acquisitive top team be cut by 90% (yes, 90%) and then see how quickly the Motability top talent were snapped in the fierce struggle for the best of the best of the best managerial talent.

The Irish Question

A gloomy final point for today.

Alex Massie, writing in The Times on May 21, highlighted the way in Brexiteers were treating Ireland with contempt. Kicking off in ironic mode, he said that “If it weren’t for the Irish life would be simpler. The Irish, after all, have for centuries been undermining or thoughtlessly complication life for British Governments. This, at any rate, seems to be the Brexiteer mantra.

The time – Easter 1916. The place – Dublin.

Lord Beaverbrook – then Max Aitkin- rang his friend Tim Healy in Dublin to ask about the reported rebellion.

“Is there a rebellion?”

Healy – “there is”

Aitkin – “When did it start?”

Healy – “When Strongbow invaded Ireland”

Aitken – “When will it finish?”

Healy – “When Cromwell gets out of Hell.”

To put the point another way – some Irishmen have long memories and not all of these memories take a kindly view of the actions of the UK authorities towards Ireland down the centuries.

 

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Is there a case to promote a salutary level of unemployment in the incompetent managerial sector?

“The British Disease is now rank ineptitude”
“Whatever the trade or profession it seems to be considered bad form to root out the stupid and the incompetent”
Headlines above a column by Matthew Parris,
The Times, December 3, 2016

Peevish sacked minister to the then Prime Minister, Mr Attlee.
“Why have I been dismissed?”
Mr Attlee, the laconic PM replied – “Because you are not up to the job.”

“The owner of a hair dressing salon who punched one of his staff in the face, dragged him across the salon floor, and kneed him in the groin, said at an industrial tribunal in Birmingham that he had not dismissed him. But the tribunal accepted a claim that such treatment was tantamount to unfair dismissal.”
Extract from a Bernard Levin piece in The Times headed ”How to know when you’re not wanted”

The Parris article was triggered by an earlier Times piece in which  his colleague Melanie Phillips had taken a forensic look at seemingly gross incompetence by the Metropolitan Police. Parris wanted to go further. “From top to bottom in Britain we appear to tolerate major blunders and minor incompetence with a tut tut….”

What followed was a wide ranging review of cock ups in our time covering IT projects, procurement failures by the MOD, and the failure by the BBC over its Digital Media initiative.

Parris went on to “identify three different forces, combining to encourage our fatal tolerance of incompetence. Class hierarchy and educational privilege; trade unionism and employment protection; and the English law of libel.”

He ended his spirited piece by asserting that “Sheer ineptitude is the most important yet the most anonymous, the most damaging yet the least noticed, the most insidious yet the least confronted pf our besetting national sins.”

Sadly Parris allow his anger to cloud his judgement. I will return later to his main points but for now I will content myself with suggesting that he takes time out from producing his own prolific output of written and spoken journalism and read what his own paper, The Times, has to say on ineptitude, and also what The Daily Mail has to say about ineptitude in the public sector and what the Guardian has to say about ineptitude in the private sector.

The papers meet in the middle to excoriate ineptitude in Quangoland.

Let us take the Times to begin with. On December 5, 2016, four letters appeared under the headline: “ Gross incompetency in the British System.” In one of the four letters Mr Werren from Cornwall, a retired civil servant, put his jaundiced view about his former colleagues.

“I came to the conclusion, shared by many colleagues, that the top 20 per cent is on a par with the best in the private sector, 50 per cent  are adequate and the remaining 30 per cent are incompetents.”  

The question arose in my mind: on the basis of what evidence was Mr Werren able to form his views about the private sector?

Another readers’ letter, published on the same day, was from a Mr Richard Duncan, a peevish critic of “banks and utility companies, none of which appears to be able to do anything without making a mess of it”.

As it happens I share his view of these businesses but he rather spoils his case by expressing his disappointment about the way that his complaint to the bank had been dealt with.

“I asked him whether the bank tracked right first time performance as manufacturing companies do (using Six Sigma techniques) and he replied that he had never heard of such a measure. It is hardly surprising that our productivity is so low.”

Might the manufacturing companies that he refers to include the global car makers now engaged in colossal global damage limitation exercise over dodgy performance figures?

 Four more letters, this time under the headline: “Rank ineptitude and the loss of common sense” were published the following day.

Sadly the poor quality of argument expressed in the Monday letters declined still further on the Tuesday.

A Mr Gilmour took Parris to task for describing incompetence as British characteristics and cites examples of cocks ups in Europe. Cock ups in  Europe and indeed across the world doubtless occur but that does not invalidate the central Parris arguments.  

In another letter a Mr Bean – appropriately named – noted that “ Given that 50 per cent of the population have less than average IQ and presumably need gainful employment, I would be interested to hear his opinion as what the nations should do with “thick” people. Matthew Parris can of course speak for himself but I doubt if he would argue that the unfortunately, if accurately, described thick people should be given top jobs in any sector. That would be taking the attempt at levelling the playing field of life  too far.”

So: has anything changed in the intervening 10 months?

In a word – no. The  bunglers are still bungling and being left in their  jobs  to keep up the bad work.  

 I take it that no one – apart, obviously, from the bunglers, believes that bunglers should be left in post.

The media are replete with stories of ineptitude – hence the pieces by Mel Phillips and Matthew Parris.

This raises the point – what SHOULD be done to tackle the perceived widespread problem of managerial ineptitude?

What about a few basic principles to get our improvement plan on the road.

Firstly, the problems are caused by the employment of the managerially challenged in senior positions.  Solve that problem by replacing them with people who are up to the job and one welcome consequence would be that this would not so much trickle down as gush down throughout the organisation.

So – start the purge at or near the top because competent managers will deal as a matter of course with problems posed by the poor performers lower down the organisational pyramid.

A typical exhortation to be – shape up or ship out – clear and crisp.

I do not suggest as robust an approach as that adopted by the hair dresser in the quote from the Bernard Levin article. Good progress can be made without resorting to violence.

I do suggest that those seeking to solve these problems should avoid the approach adopted by Sir John Chilcot in his inquiry into matters arising  from the invasion of Iraq in 2003. No one could accuse Sir John Chilcot of being superficial but any concerted campaign to fire the top tier failures would need a rather more brisk approach.

It is important to stress that we are not talking here of shady managerial practices which verge on the criminal. We are talking about how to tackle woefully inadequate managerial performance.

Nor are we talking about the managerial jobs that are grossly overpaid. It is thought in some quarters that the £40 million or so paid annually to Sir Martin Sorrell verges on the generous but I have not seen anywhere comment that Sir Martin  is not up to the job – merely that he is overpaid.

I am NOT talking about politicians, even though bungling politicians are possibly the most accomplished bunglers of all. This group has to answer to the voters and the voters are often the most unforgiving of all – just ask Mrs May.

A fictitious but not entirely far fetched case study

  • Wayne Rooney obtains possession of the ball in the middle of the pitch during an important match – and to the crowd that has paid good money to be present, all matches are important.
  • He quickly assesses the possibilities of the situation.
  • He then speeds off down the field with the ball under control.
  • Unfortunately he has sped off in the wrong direction towards his own goal.
  • His colleagues are too bemused and aghast to grasp what is going on and do not move to tackle him.
  • At exactly the right spot he steadies himself and fires a perfect shot into the corner of the net.
  • A goal, possibly a nice goal, but sadly against his own side.

Might this incident be sufficient to justify and to trigger the instant awarding of a P45 to  Mr Rooney?

I think so but doubtless there are those who argue for a period of reflection to allow Wayne to rehabilitate himself.

What do you think?

In what follows we are looking at not dissimilar situations in which senior managers display startling ineptitude that ought to be followed by the award of a P45.

The bunglers should be sacked – not in Chilcotian painfully protracted fashion but as soon as possible within the terms of the appropriate disciplinary procedures.

Why the haste? In no special order of importance:-

  • To stop the widespread practice in some sectors of a stitch up in which the bungler leaves with the full retirement package including redundancy and pension  benefits
  • To stop the equally pervasive practice of moving the bungler sideways – and free to cock things up all over again.
  • This approach would benefit the employing organisation in that the other senior managers would – hopefully – get the message that the sack is just that and not an agreeable alternative.

I suggest that there is case to appoint a National P45 Czar tasked with calling in those selected for the treatment. Not a languid Czar after the fashion of Mr -now Sir Eric – Pickles who was notably inactive in his role as anti- corruption Czar – but an experienced and suitably insensitive candidate – why not Lord Sugar who would, I am sure, relish the role?

 A word on procedure

The bungler is called in and informed that his/her gross misconduct and / or gross incompetence  and / or gross negligence has triggered his/her departure.

Keep the session brief in the manner of Clem Attlee to his subordinate after the latter was found wanting.

Proceedings to be as per the relevant sections from the disciplinary  handbook. We have had cases where the sacking drama was not carried out as per script thus adding farce to fiasco.

I recall that Mr Ed Balls mishandled the dismissal of the official in charge of social services in the area where Baby P was killed and his failure allowed the official to avoid what should have been the full consequences of her failure.

The minimum amount of time of time to be allowed for the relevant appeals to be presented.

It is important that the dismissed bunglers are required to contest the outcome in their own time.

The relevant P45, correctly made out, to be handed over to the reluctant recipient.

The sacked bungler is given a few minutes to collect his personal belongings and to be then escorted from the premises.

Here is my starter list of 5 candidates who in my view were all suitable candidates to be shown the door. There is no shortage of suitable candidates and I have no doubt that readers could come up with equally well qualified names.

Readers especially interested in these matters should be sure to read Private Eye – the magazine is a splendid source of information and those selected for treatment by Lord Gnome are frequently rewarded with a P45.

 1. Mr Andrew Marr  – BBC Journalist.

“And a rogue is talking to a bore”
Amended version of the line from Rudyard Kipling – to cover the recent interview between Andrew Marr and Theresa May. 

A few years ago, it emerged that Mr Marr had taken out a comprehensive injunction to prohibit any mention of his not especially interesting extra marital activities. His media colleagues, who were of course, well acquainted with the root cause of the injunction, acquiesced in and obeyed the injunction presumably for a variety of reasons – there but for the grace of God go I, respect for the law, apprehensive about the consequences of violating the law, and so on.

It was left to the dogged persistence of Mr Ian Hislop, Private Eye Editor, to flush out what was common knowledge in social media.

Andrew Marr ought to have been sacked for this squalid breach of the practices of the trade of journalism, but here, as so often elsewhere in the BBC, his lapse was forgiven and he remained in the BBC to interrogate on the Andrew Marr show.

A good example of the  British capacity for selective indignation.

 2. The Vice Chancellor of Bolton University, Mr George Holmes.

Readers will recall that University Vice Chancellors came under fire recently for their propensity to improve their reward packages, this at a time when the higher education sector was pleading for increased funding.

Mr Holmes came out fighting when questioned about his reward package.

“Pity all us poor university chiefs. We are not paid enough” says Bentley driving boss on £220,000″
Daily Mail, August 2, 2017

“I’m worth every penny, says £220k university chief”
The Times, August 2, 2017

Mr Holmes went well beyond the simple asseveration made by Dame Breakwell that she was worth her salary. Holmes said that “we – The Vice Chancellors – are not paid enough,” and a little later “they (Vice Chancellors) should be paid more or they could leave the country”.

His view is that he is worth his huge pay because he is a success.

Private Eye mischievously delved into the claim of the Bolton boy to be a success, and came up with the following.

“Eye readers will recall his failed Doncaster Education City scheme which left Doncaster College with a £1.8m deficit in 2005.”
“An Ofsted report in April found Bolton UTC inadequate in all areas, including governance, and placed it into special measures.”

One has to concede that Mr Holmes is clearly a very successful confidence trickster, the Arthur Daley of the Daubhill and Deane Road areas of Bolton.

Mr Holmes is also a strong candidate to be handed a prompt P45 for misconduct and deceit guaranteed to bring his profession into disrepute and Bolton University into ridicule. 

I suspect that Lord Sugar would relish this particular leave taking.

3. The Senior Police Officer who authorised the search of the home of  Sir Cliff Richard.

 “But now I’ll ask you a question. Do you know, or do you not know, that the law of England supposes every man to be innocent, until he is proved – proved – to be guilty?”
Mr Jaggers to a deferential group of topers in the Three Jolly Bargemen,
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

To summarise: in August 2014, after a complaint to the Met’s Operation Yewtree, Sir Cliff Richard’s house was searched. The search was shown live on the BBC news, the BBC clearly having been tipped off that something was afoot. In the event, there were no arrests (Richards had voluntarily met and was interviewed by members of the constabulary) and subsequently an independent report into the sorry business concluded that South Yorkshire Police had “interfered with [Richard’s] privacy” by the tip off.

 

My contention here is that the conduct of the Senior Policeman who authorised the dramatic search and was responsible for tipping off the BBC amounted to gross misconduct and should have been followed, after appropriate but brisk investigation by the responsible authorities by the award of a P45.

4. Lin Homer — HMRC and Immigration Service Mandarin.

“Colonel Cargill was so awful a marketing executive that his services were much sought after by firms eager to establish losses for tax purposes. Throughout the civilised world …. he was known as a dependable man  for a fast tax write off.”
Joseph Heller, Catch 22

Lin Homer was the civil service equivalent of Colonel Cargill in Catch 22 but whereas the Colonel was always employed with the specific remit to cock things up, Ms Homer was employed – why? You tell me. Just how inept does a manager have to be to receive the black spot?

This particular Homer’s odyssey was a narrative laced with incompetence, as she sailed joyously from a post as Chief Executive of Birmingham Council (where she was criticised for her role of returning officer in a vote-rigging scandal) to Director-General/Chief Executive of the Immigration Agency (criticised for “catastrophic leadership failure”) to Permanent Secretary at the Department of Transport (alleged to have ignored concerns around West Count franchise, resulting in a bill of £100 million) to CEO at HMRC (forgot to collect taxes from big business, “unambitious and woefully inadequate” response to concerns over public service, etc etc).

The action required is clear cut – convene the firing squad – follow the procedure and out she goes.

What could be simpler?

5. The Senior Management of the UK Rail Sector

A bit of background here.

In September 2016, Nick Brown was appointed as the COO of Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs, inter alia, the Southern Rail franchise.

Commenting on Brown’s appointment, Charles Horton, Chief Executive of GTR, said:

“We’re delighted that Nick is joining GTR. He has a first class pedigree in the transport industry, a wealth of experience and a strong track record of leading businesses in the rail and bus sectors. Nick’s broad experience and intimate knowledge of the sector makes him ideally placed to help us achieve our business goals and deliver a better railway and EXCELLENT SERVICE – [my capitals]- for our customers going forward. I’m looking forward to him coming on board and I know he’ll add real value to the business.”

I suspect that many frequent travellers by rail will be dubious about excellent service and would gladly settle for a service that provided trains that run to time untroubled by faulty points and faulty signals and inadequate numbers of staff.

I suspect also that many people will be dubious about making huge funds available for HS2 to managers incapable of maintaining points and signals and adequate staff levels.

The managers campaigning for the funding for HS2 will of course be relaxed about the challenge given the extent to which they are insulated from the normal pressures of their profession.

Suffice it say that the rapid departure of a few senior managers heads would do more to convince those remaining of the need to get it right than would any amount of self calculated performance based bonuses.

How to Solve a Problem Like the BBC

“The British Broadcasting Corporation, as everyone must know, is a very great organisation. In the world of responsible television there are the BBC and some others. Its genius lies in the quality of the people it attracts…..”
The Age of Uncertainty,  John Kenneth Galbraith, 1977

“Up to a point, Lord Copper”
Scoop, Evelyn Waugh, 1936

The praise lavished by Galbraith on the BBC was, of course, wholly divorced from the fact that the BBC had asked him to “do a TV series on some unspecified aspect of the history of economic or social ideas” and that the lavish praise appeared in the forward to the book of the series. Like many before and after him, Galbraith was not one to bite the hand that fed him.

In the years that have elapsed since The Age of Uncertainty was first shown the BBC has demonstrated a remarkably consistent performance in one area, namely its ability to lavish praise upon itself. A National Treasure is just one of the terms widely deployed by the BBC to describe the BBC.

But – does today’s BBC really merit the self serving opinions of the BBC about the BBC?

Let me use the recent furore that followed the release of the rewards paid out to BBC stars and BBC senior managers as a test case.

I wrote the following letter to The Times on July 20 – it was not published despite my paying close attention to the publication rules of that august organ, the first rule being the need to lavish praise on The Times.

“Sir,
The Times is to be commended for its coverage of the revelations about the high earnings of substantial numbers of BBC employees – The Times July 20. The Times is also to be commended for widening the scope of its coverage to include the bloated bureaucracies that flourish within the BBC.
Mr John Humphreys is quoted as saying that we operate in a market economy and in my view this comment points the way towards an obvious solution to the various problems discussed in your columns.
The privatisation of the BBC would solve all the problems highlighted both by the revelations and by your catalogue of its institutional failings at a stroke – so why not do it?”

The gist of the revelations

“ To discuss my salary and how I’m worth every penny, I’m joined by my mother…”
“ And now my male colleague will read the autocue more expensively”
“ And could you please send the Brexit bill to Gary Lineker, c/o the BBC…”

The above 3 quotes were taken from Matt cartoons in The Daily Telegraph during revelation week and they sum up beautifully how the original story – a searchlight on which stars get what at the top of the BBC – altered rapidly to become yet another story of gender inequality.

“The female of the species is more deadly than the male”
Rudyard Kipling

By the end of the week the BBC was teeming with stars and celebrities of the male persuasion ruefully acknowledging the insight revealed in Kipling’s poem. Forty or so fiery, fuming, fairly well-paid feminists banded together to lodge a protest against the perceived – by them – injustice of the BBC system used to reward its top people.

In truth, there were no great surprises in the revelations despite the shock horror banner headlines. There may have been a few raised eyebrows at some of the more obscure names on the list and equally a few raised eyebrows at some of the reward packages – possibly the latter eyebrows may not have been identical to the former eyebrows.

Some of the names at the very top of the list chose to tough out the storm of adverse publicity – a response that they may live to regret. Mr Lineker was prominent in this micro list.

One not entirely predictable outcome was the peevish response of the fearless forty who used the revelations to voice their perennial gripe that once again women were seen to be on the wrong end of a raw deal. It did not occur to them that to those outside the gilded cage that is the BBC there would be many license payers – of both sexes – who thought that just about all the reward packages paid to all on the list were excessive.

Press and broadcast comment varied from a perception that this was yet another instance of the females of the species anxious to get their dainty little noses into the trough – greed masquerading as concern for the oppressed – to a perception that the time was up for all the excesses that are built into the very fabric of the BBC.

As noted earlier, The Times took the opportunity to wade into the senior management of the BBC across a wide front and not just on the reward packages of the stars, taking aim in an editorial at senior managers with mysterious job titles. “Identity architects,” analytics architects and service architects were listed in this category.

I have to confess that I would be nonplussed if asked to outline the tasks of these latter day Stakhanovites working tirelessly at the media equivalent of the coal face.

Did Mr Kelvin McKenzie, veteran media man and long-time errand boy for Mr Rupert Murdoch, have a point when, in a discussion with a colleague concerning the earnings of the design team at L!ve TV, he observed, ”F—in’ ’ell. Did you hear that, Nick? Forty f—in’ grand for farting about with a comma. We’re in the wrong game, mate”. An unseemly but incisive view on hot air doubling up as creative talent, and one which manages to steer clear of gender matters.

In the following notes I will focus on the managerial problems at the BBC and leave the delicate matter of gender inequality to other, hardier writers. The wife of my bosom these past 51 years supports the feminist cause and I am anxious not to trigger marital disharmony at my time of life.

A stroll down memory lane

“In the beginning the building was without staff and empty.
And Sir John Reith said let there be staff – and there was staff.”
John Holden, with thanks to Frank Dickens and his creation Bristow.

I don’t want to be drawn into comparing today’s BBC with the BBC’s golden age under the management of John Reith. In his day the BBC stuck firmly to its core objectives to inform, to educate and to entertain. The objectives of senior BBC people today might be described as to enrich themselves and their families and friends at the expense of the suckers who pay the licence fee.

Before I bring my story up to today, a brief word about Dr Charles Hill, later Lord Hill who was the Chairman of the BBC from 1967 to 1972. In an earlier era, Dr Hill served the nation in general and listeners to the old BBC Home Service in particular when he gave his weekly talk in his capacity as the Radio Doctor. I can still – just – recall his plummy tones as he exhorted his listeners to take care of their bowels and provided details of the various diets that would promote this commendable objective – an early example of public service broadcasting at its best.

It would be difficult to pinpoint the precise point at which Reithism degenerated into today’s BBC.

Was the takeover of the BBC by the latter day incarnations of Arthur Daley – the light fingered businessman who entertained the nation with his imaginative schemes to persuade the gullible to part with their money – a sudden coup or a slow but steady decline? I incline to the latter explanation.

Q- Why does a dog lick its balls?
A- Because it can!

This old adage about the opportunities available only to the male line of the canine species goes a long way to explain the acquisitive propensities of the senior managers in the BBC.

“I seen my opportunities and I took ‘em”
George Washington Plunkitt, a veteran politician of the Tammany Hall era, explaining the difference between honest graft and dishonest graft.

Thus Plunkitt, and thus the senior management of the BBC.

A few BBC case studies in no special order now follow.

The contribution of John Birt

Birt was the Director General of The BBC throughout most of the 1990s. His time at the top was perceived by some as bringing in the much-needed reform of an institution that has ossified in previous years.

Others took the view that he was responsible for the introduction of a tsunami of authentic managerial gibberish.

I suggest that the two views were not and indeed are not mutually exclusive in that there possibly did exist scope to bring the objectives and practices of the BBC up to date and the legacy of Mr Birt was not the way to do it. It was no accident that Birt was close to Tony Blair and that Mr Blair was fond of advocating radical progressive modernist reform but also that he was notably reticent about putting flesh onto the bones of his slogans.

Back to Birt. It was unfortunate that the time of Mr Birt at the BBC was marred when it emerged that his employment arrangements did not include his being employed by the BBC. This was done by an early ingenious agreement that the reward package paid to him was not via the conventional method familiar to you and to me but instead paid to a consultancy owned by Mr Birt.

Not exactly transparent and when made public the arrangement was changed to the one which applied to all the other BBC employees.

This shady innovation has been refined to keep the curious and HMRC at bay and it continues to be popular with the top brass at the BBC.

Speaking of being Marred

A few years ago there was speculation in the media as to the identity of the eminent person who had secured a super injunction to forbid any mention of his alleged playing away from the matrimonial home.

The injuncter was eventually revealed as being Mr Andrew Marr and it turned out that his sexual activities had not been particularly exciting by the exacting standards of today.

What startled some on the outside of the BBC was not the extra marital activities – no big deal there – but rather that the BBC continued to employ in a senior capacity a man who had secured the most despised of sanctions by journalists – a super injunction.

Marr continues to front a Sunday morning programme – The Andrew Marr Show – the very name underlines the descent of the BBC; there’s no business like show business.

A word about Mr Yentob

This gentleman deserves a special mention in the group under discussion. I suspect – and hope – that when normal service is resumed at No 10 Downing Street, that time and resources will be made available to look into the shady past of Alan Yentob. Never in the history of human sharp practice has one man got away with so much from the BBC.  There would be stiff competition to be awarded this coveted accolade but I can see no serious challenger to Yentob.

His chequered BBC career was covered in some media outlets and the following tips of the Yentob iceberg surfaced:

  • It emerged that that was considerable doubt as to what he had been doing, if anything, at the BBC. There had been a time when he had been busy, sufficiently so to build up a pension pot of £6.3 million, an amount that was a record for the public sector and no mean feat of planning to secure an old age that would be adequately cushioned from poverty.
  • Mr Yentob also hit the headlines for the wrong reasons on account of his shaky stewardship of the Kids’ Company charity where it was hinted that he had been less than competent in overseeing the financial affairs of the charity – a far cry from his unmatched competence in the management of his own financial affairs.

The Dimbleby dynasty

The founding father of the Dimbleby dynasty was Richard, a broadcaster whose approach to the job was rooted mostly, but not wholly, in the principles of John Reith. Dimbleby Senior was shrewd enough to recognise a cushy number when he saw one and he duly guided his sons, David and Jonathan, into the BBC using the time honoured methods of nepotism.

I was surprised to see that neither of the Dimbleby brothers featured in the list of revelations but then some alert observer noted that the financial relationship between them and the BBC was fashioned after the approach adopted by John Birt, that is some sort of arms-length relationship to make the task of HMRC that much more difficult.
Doubtless there will be developments here as tireless investigators, not especially in love with the Dimblebys, attempt to unravel the exact rewards of this group.

At one point in the recent general election campaign David Dimbleby looked straight at the camera and spoke of the BBC as being “Your BBC”. Would this assertion have applied before or after the sizeable convoluted payments to the Dimbebys and to those employing similar complex management of their employment terms and conditions?

You tell me.

Jenny Abramsky

I have included my next case study solely to bring comfort and joy to the oppressed forty fiery feminists whose poverty has been in the recent headlines.

On July 13, 2008, William Langley wrote an article in the Sunday Telegraph in which he drew attention to the splendid reward package paid to Jenny Abramsky. He noted that JB had “secured a pension worth £4 million, believed to be the largest ever for a public employee in Britain.”

Girls – follow the example of JB and you won’t go far wrong.

A disconcerting point arising from the Langley piece is that little if anything has changed in the past 9 years at the BBC, and that far too much pay continues to be doled out to far too many for doing… what?

James Purnell – Politician turned BBC senior manager

Mr Purnell is an intriguing figure – his Oxford First Class degree and his employment by the BCG consulting group – a group of sharp cookies if ever there was one – mark him out as a man of considerable talent.

He resigned as an MP in 2010 and, after a few years of networking, joined the BBC as a senior manger in an ill-defined but well rewarded capacity.

It may be that Mr Purnell, having endured a rough time following the emergence of some alleged sharp practices at the time of the MP expense scandal, opted to pursue a career where there was still ample opportunity for modest nest-feathering and duly made his way to the BBC.

He will not be happy, not only having to explain his own enviable terms and conditions, but also at having to explain to a suspicious public the enviable terms and conditions paid out by the BBC to the stars and to the senior management.

The Future

So: what are the chances of a real change within the BBC under its present management – let us say a true reversion to the standards applied by John Reith?

The odds in favour are about the same that you and I have of being struck by lightning.

The case against the top management of the BBC is so pervasive and so compelling – it has become a refuge, a safe sanctuary for the Arthur Daleys of our time. Its managers combine the arrogance of a Goering with the hypocrisy of Mr Pecksniff.

A dubious collection of Narcissi continually assuring themselves and the public that they preside over an organisation that is the envy of the world.Actually, there may well some truth embedded in the assertion in the second half of the previous sentence – there may well be many media people across the world full of envy for the cushiness that goes with the job of being a senior BBC manager.

Suggested Remedies
“Why everyone’s pay should be made public”
Libby Purves, The Times, July 24, 2017 
Libby – shall we do one job at a time?

“They are so full of themselves that it is hard to imagine how such a corrupted institution could ever be brought sensibly back onto the rails.”
Christopher Booker, Sunday Telegraph, July 23, 2017 
A policy of despair from Booker. He should follow the splendid advice of Sir Winston Churchill: Never flinch, never weary, never despair. Be a man, CB – shape up.

“The answer to the BBC gender gap is simple: cut the wages of the men”
Dominic Lawson, Daily Mail, July 24, 2017 
His approach won’t even begin to tackle the perceived gender gap.

What approach is likely to bring about the cleansing of the Augean stables that are currently filling up the BBC and who might emerge as Hercules to carry out the job and when?

Q – What do we – the public – want?
A – We want the Augean stables located within the BBC to be thoroughly cleansed .
Q – When do we – the public – want it?
A – We want it now!
Q – Who should be given the job?
A – Well – as someone on the run from John Humphreys in a tricky interview might say – that is a very good question.

A few pointers:
The BBC is in the media business.
It demands a commercial framework when it suits it as a lever to push rewards ever upwards.
It pleads for a national treasure framework when it suits it – surely everyone loves the BBC?

Why not opt for the blindingly obvious solution which is to put it up for sale and then sell it to the highest bidder? Its new owners could then get on the job of managing a new entrant into a competitive global media market.

An eBay ad might read:-
For sale – slightly shop-soiled broadcasting organisation. Some strengths but desperately needs new owners who would have to start with a clear out of the current failing but affluent top brass.

The scope is there to build a sound honest company.

Possible purchasers – Who might be interested?

On the home front – Mr Desmond? Mr Branson?

A foreign buyer – Surely after decades of indoctrination about the benefits of globalisation – now is not the time to baulk at the BBC being sold to an overseas buyer?
USA media moguls? Their equivalents in China? Russia? India? The Middle East?

I beg HMG to start to think outside the box, to think the unthinkable, to undertake genuine blue sky thinking – or even just plain Sky thinking as undertaken by Mr Rupert Murdoch.

Image courtesy of telegraph.com