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BBC fat cats splurged £300k on lavish hotels and luxury flights

BBC chiefs claimed more than £300,000 on expenses including business class flights and five-star hotels last year, a Daily Mail investigation reveals today.

An audit of three dozen bosses who each earn at least £200,000 a year found shocking examples of executive extravagance.

The investigation, undertaken with the TaxPayers’ Alliance, also shows golden goodbyes surged by a third to £23million – with 85 employees pocketing half this sum on an average payout of £131,000.

An audit of three dozen bosses who each earn at least £200,000 a year found shocking examples of executive extravagance at the BBC

Among the examples of high spending were:

  • Former director general Tony Hall claiming more than £8,000 for two business-class flights;
  • A team of senior managers staying at a Hollywood celebrity hangout where Victoria Beckham hosted her baby shower on a trip costing up to £10,000;
  • One executive claiming £7,500 for business-class flights to Seattle – ten times the cost of a standard return fare;
  • The head of drama spending £6,500 on flights to Los Angeles and two stays at luxury hotels in Venice;
  • The director of news wasting £1,105 on a cancelled business-class flight to Kenya but warning staff the BBC needed to save ‘substantial amounts of money’;
  • A senior boss splashing out £645 on a five-star hotel to attend a summer conference in Greece reimagining the future of news through ‘friendship and entertainment’.
Head of drama Piers Wenger (pictured with Alicia Vikander), meanwhile, had two stays at luxury spas in Venice last year – including a £287 stay at the five-star Abano Grand Hotel

Head of drama Piers Wenger (pictured with Alicia Vikander), meanwhile, had two stays at luxury spas in Venice last year – including a £287 stay at the five-star Abano Grand Hotel

The top 36 BBC bosses, who all earn more than the Prime Minister, together claimed £304,000 in expenses. 

The spending, which includes £120,000 on foreign travel and £18,400 on taxis, is the equivalent of 1,930 TV licences.

Lord Hall claimed over £8,000 for two return fares from London to Delhi and to Nairobi over the past year – both in business.

Julian Knight, chairman of the Commons culture committee, called on BBC bosses to justify the spending. ‘Now more than ever the BBC must demonstrate it provides value for money for licence-fee payers,’ he said.

£700k blown on trade union activity 

Union reps at the BBC cost licence fee payers £700,000 as they took paid time off to help their colleagues last year.

Over 300 members of staff were allowed to devote up to 50 per cent of their work hours to do so. Seven more were employed by the BBC as full-time trade union representatives.

Such spending, known as union facility time, increased at the corporation by £17,000 from the previous financial year. 

In 2018-19, there were the same number of full-time staff but ten fewer part-time reps, costing nearly £690,000 in total.

In its most recent annual report, the BBC said: ‘Facility time refers to the time taken for our recognised trade unions to represent members both individually and collectively in a range of issues across the BBC.’

A spokesman said the corporation respected the rights of its staff to be union members.

‘This committee raised the question with director-general Tim Davie about the size of the talent bill for BBC stars and whether such high pay was justified when he appeared before us in September.

‘At a time when the BBC is planning to cut hundreds of jobs among its staff, the same question has to be applied to the corporation’s senior management about the level of payments described, and whether such costs are justifiable.’

According to the BBC’s expenses policy, staff ‘should use the lowest cost’ flights and business class is permitted only if the flight is over eight hours long.

The cost of a hotel room should ‘not normally exceed’ £126 in London or £90 outside of the capital, while those abroad should aim to stay within these rates.

But the Mail audit has found examples of BBC executives and directors spending rather more. Three controllers chose the Petit Ermitage, a boutique hotel, as their base in Hollywood for a trip that will have cost as much as £10,000 because they were joined by three colleagues. 

Head of drama Piers Wenger, meanwhile, had two stays at luxury spas in Venice last year – including a £287 stay at the five-star Abano Grand Hotel.

The 48-year-old’s highest claim was £6,597 for business-class flights to Los Angeles. The highest single claim was a staggering £7,483 for a return flight in business-class from London to Seattle for former chief technology officer Matthew Postgate. Standard return flights this weekend cost around £670.

The highest spender overall was Ken Macquarrie, director of BBC nations and regions, who claimed £25,414 over the year – mostly travelling around the UK. The £325,000-a-year executive charged £2,362 for taxi fares.

Earlier this year, Fran Unsworth, director of news and current affairs, warned staff: ‘We need to reshape BBC News for the next decade in a way which saves substantial amounts of money.’

But her cancellation of a return flight to Kenya in October 2019 cost £1,105 in ‘amendment charges and transaction fees’.

A BBC spokesman said: ‘We have strict policies in place for essential travel and expenses in order to keep costs as low.

Former director general Tony Hall (pictured) claiming more than £8,000 for two business-class flights

Former director general Tony Hall (pictured) claiming more than £8,000 for two business-class flights

‘This accounts for a fraction of the cost of providing free TV licences for over-75s which at £745million a year and rising would lead to significant cuts to the programmes and services which our audiences love.’

Free TV licences were withdrawn for over-75 from August 1 – unless viewers could prove they claimed pension credits. Lord Hall has said the new arrangement would cost the BBC £250million a year, whereas keeping the benefit would have meant having to find £750million.   

Golden goodbyes for departing staff soar by a third to £23m 

By Daily Mail Reporter

Golden goodbyes at the BBC surged by nearly a third to £23million in the year before a government cap came in.

Nearly half this sum went to just 85 employees who received an average payout worth £131,000.

Golden goodbyes at the BBC surged by nearly a third to £23million in the year before a government cap came in

Golden goodbyes at the BBC surged by nearly a third to £23million in the year before a government cap came in

Long-serving staff were reportedly keen to take redundancy believing it to be their last chance to leave with a six-figure sum.

Radio 1 DJ’s stay at £10,000-a-night suite 

BBC Radio One’s breakfast show host Greg James came under fire this year after splashing out on a £10,000-a-night hotel room for a controversial stunt.

Listeners were invited to guess where Mr James, pictured, was holed up for 48 hours after being ‘kidnapped’ from the Brit Awards afterparty in February.

It eventually emerged that the 34-year-old – who is paid £275,000 – was in one of the finest suites at the luxury five-star Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard.

BBC Radio One’s breakfast show host Greg James came under fire this year

BBC Radio One’s breakfast show host Greg James came under fire this year

BBC bosses insisted that they paid a reduced rate but they would not disclose how much was paid for the room.

And producers on the same show were criticised again in July after spending £1,000 of licence fee payers’ money on a comedy blimp with the message ‘Up yours Corona’ on the side.

The blimp was launched over Cardiff city centre.

At the time Mr James, who was recently given a £50,000 pay rise, joked he was surprised he had been allowed to do it. He added: ‘There is something brilliantly comedic about having a blimp.’

 

A £95,000 cap on public sector payoffs was finally implemented earlier this month following a campaign by the Mail and the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

The BBC first introduced a redundancy cap of £150,000 after public outcry in 2013 over huge settlements paid out to bosses. 

This included £450,000 for George Entwistle when he resigned following the Jimmy Savile scandal after just 54 days as director general.

While the highest payments might have stopped, the BBC’s 2019/20 annual report shows a rise in the number of staff paid just under the limit.

It reveals that 85 received between £100,000 and £150,000 – costing licence-fee payers £11.1million. 

This compares with 64 in the same bracket the previous year, totalling £7.8million.

The identities of corporation staff who received the cash are confidential.

Departing staff will no longer receive six-figure sums after the £95,000 cap came into place on November 4. 

There had been a rush of applications from employees anticipating it might be their last chance to get a lucrative pay out, BBC insiders told The Times.

Among the high-profile staff to have left in recent months was diplomatic correspondent James Robbins, who retired last month after joining the BBC in 1977.

Political correspondent Ross Hawkins left to join public relations firm Hawthorn Advisors after 19 years at the corporation.

Employees are braced for further job cuts in the coming months as BBC England tries to shed nearly a sixth of its 3,000 staff.

The new director-general, Tim Davie, has outlined plans for a smaller, leaner BBC. 

The corporation’s redundancy policy is a month’s pay for each year of service up to a maximum of 12 months. 

For those who joined before 2013, it is 24 months.

Overall £23.4million was paid out to 331 staff between 2019 and 2020. 

This compares with £17.8million for 296 staff the previous year.

A BBC spokesman said: ‘We’re always seeking ways to be more efficient and provide value for money, but in areas where we have had to reduce staff numbers and close posts we are legally required to make redundancy payments in line with contractual entitlement, the same as every other organisation.’

James Roberts, political director at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘This cap is long overdue.’

FAVOURITE HAUNTS OF THE BEEL BOSSES

THE BOHEMIAN HOLLYWOOD HOTEL

With panoramic views across the Hollywood Hills, boutique hotel Petit Ermitage has become a notorious celeb hangout.

Indeed its rooftop pool and bar was even chosen as the setting for Victoria Beckham’s baby shower.

Suites for the bohemian retreat cost up to £475 per night and a team of BBC controllers selected it as their base while in the US.

Dan McGolpin, Patrick Holland, and Fiona Campbell paid £1,430 each to stay at the luxury four-star hotel while attending a five-day television event in Los Angeles.

Just getting there proved a costly affair, with all three – in charge of channels two, three and iPlayer respectively – paying £1,254 each for return flights in May last year.

With panoramic views across the Hollywood Hills, boutique hotel Petit Ermitage (pictured) has become a notorious celeb hangout

With panoramic views across the Hollywood Hills, boutique hotel Petit Ermitage (pictured) has become a notorious celeb hangout

The Mail found advance tickets from London to Los Angeles cost around £330 for that time of year.

Petit Ermitage, which offers guests morning yoga sessions, is described as ‘a magical, eccentric boutique hotel like no other’.

The 79 rooms cost from £190 per night to £475 for the master suite.

The trip is likely to have cost upwards of £10,000 as the controllers – all on more than £200,000-a-year – were joined by three other representatives from the BBC.

VENICE RETREAT 

THE BBC’s head of drama booked into two stays at luxury hotel spas in Venice last year taking his total expenses to nearly £20,000. 

Piers Wenger was the fifth highest spender having also claimed £6,597 for return flights to Los Angeles in business class. 

The 48-year-old – who lives in a £1.5million Grade II-listed country pile in Somerset – claimed nearly £900 including flights on a brief overnight trip to Italy in August last year.

He stayed at the four-star Mioni Pezzato which advertises itself as a ‘regenerating retreat for body and soul’. 

Two months later he returned to another luxury spa in the city – this time upping it to a five-star – paying £287 to stay at the Abano Grand Hotel. 

Mr Wenger, who is paid over £270,000-a-year, also claimed a further £1,000 for two staff parties and £173 for a ‘team picnic’.

FIVE-STAR LUXURY IN ATHENS

A BBC executive was part of a senior team that announced budget cuts just six months after she splashed out £645 on a luxury five-star hotel while attending a summer conference in Greece. 

Naja Nielsen said the corporation needed to axe hundreds of jobs as part of an £80million cost-saving exercise in January.

But staff may be shocked to learn that their boss had blown nearly £1,100 on a three-day trip to Athens the previous June.

The digital director for BBC News – who had taken up the £180,000-a-year post only three months prior – spent £215-a-night staying at the Athens Marriott Hotel. The hotel offers guests a full service spa.


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