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:
- 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.
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?
- 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.
- 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,
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.
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.