It’s been a dispiriting week for supporters of public service broadcasting in the UK, and particularly the BBC. Lurid headlines in the newspapers and online about senior executives being accused of handing out ‘huge payoffs’ to themselves, and then denying an culpability for this flagrant misuse of public money.
In the face of a persistent enquiry from the Public Accounts Committee in parliament. According to The Scotsman “BBC bosses were told the corporation’s management structure was “broken”… after a committee of MPs heard a “grossly unedifying” list of claims and counter-claims about who knew what about huge pay-outs to senior staff.”
In what The Independent called “unedifying and acrimonious scenes” the row about who knew what and when only added to the sense that senior BBC executives had been running their own empires, with little regard for public accountability and value for money.
Allison Pearson summed up the reaction in The Telegraph “Every year, [the BBC] is handed £3.6 billion of viewers’ cash on a plate. Over the past decade, with our money, it has rewarded an elite cadre with staggering largesse – more Rothschild than Reith – but without being accountable to shareholders. Let’s call it upping the Auntie.”
The question is, are the excesses of the executive management model used at the BBC limited just to this one organisation, or are more of our public services infected by this culture? If the Public Accounts Committee turns it’s gaze to other public services that have faced similar ‘reforms’ in recent years, would they find similar practices of ‘bullying’, ‘incompetence’ and ‘cronyism’? As Margaret Hodge is quoted in The Guardian “An ordinary worker on average earnings would have to work 40 years to earn the £1m Mr Byford got and in those circumstances you can understand the disgust ordinary licence fee payers feel?”