BBC expenses criticism is off-target

THE BBC is not, goodness knows, beyond criticism and has on occasions - and when deserved - come under attack within this very column. But there seemed to be something rather nasty behind last week's controversy over executive expenses at the corporation.

THE BBC is not, goodness knows, beyond criticism and has on occasions - and when deserved - come under attack within this very column.

But there seemed to be something rather nasty behind last week's controversy over executive expenses at the corporation.

Some of the broader issues raised certainly warrant discussion, notably the scale of salaries paid by the BBC to big-name performers and the question of whether details of these ought to be published.

The level of pay for BBC executives, also the subject of comment last week, is likewise a legitimate matter for discussion although it should, in fairness, be viewed in a rather wider context since the cost of - and indeed need for - many senior roles in the civil service and local government is equally worthy of debate.


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But criticism over claims for expenses which any reasonable employer should be expected to pick up is wide of the mark, not least because none of the examples quoted in the case of the BBC appear to conflict in any way with HM Revenue & Custom rules - unlike the conduct of a number of MPs.

Particularly misplaced is the criticism of BBC director general Mark Thompson over the cost of flying his family home early from holiday last year after he returned to the UK to deal with the fallout from the “Manuelgate” scandal over the insulting phone calls made to Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs by Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross.

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Leaving aside the fact that the newspapers now criticising Mr Thompson over the cost were among those which demanded his return in the first place, the idea that an employer should expect an employee - even one as relatively well paid as Mr Thompson - to foot such a bill personally is, to put it mildly, on the mean side.

n It is hardly his role to deliver a knock-out punch, but Bank of England governor Mervyn King has finally landed a hefty blow on the political jaw of Chancellor Alistair Darling.

Giving evidence to the Treasury Select Committee last week, he said: “We are confronted with a situation where the scale of deficits is truly extraordinary. This reflects the scale of the global downturn, but it also reflects the fact that we came into this crisis with fiscal policy on a path that wasn't sustainable and a correction was needed.”

As regular readers of this column may recall, Mr King made similar remarks to the committee earlier this year, on which occasion he was largely ignored by a media then preoccupied with the more colourful but rather less significant row over the size of Sir Fred Goodwin's pension from Royal Bank of Scotland.

Now that Mr King has won the media's attention, let's hope he manages to keep it. If the public finances are allowed to slide further, the inevitable spending cuts will be all the more painful when they come.

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