Wednesday 19 July 2017

BBC Salaries - An Own Goal

Congratulations, Government.  Your requirement of the BBC to distort a market has been thoroughly successful. Well done. It will cost you.

The salary figures published today are greeted with the typically outraged response by people who, viewing and listening figures suggest, were largely very happy with what is broadcast by the best broadcaster in the World.  To require that the BBC spend less would result in the use of lesser broadcasters and inferior quality programming. 

Can you think of many people as talented as Graham Norton? As gifted an election host or radio presenter as Jeremy Vine? Were alternatives available, I rather think the BBC would have hired them.  I’m sure they do not pay top dollar for nothing.  Great talent creates value. ITV does not pay Ant and Dec out of sympathy; they pay because it adds value to their company in terms of direct revenue garnered from their programmes and from the extra star value which their very association lends the channel brand. The Corporation, similarly, gains value.  Witness the value of the BBC brand here and abroad at a time when trusted news sources and quality output are ever more critical. The BBC doesn’t always get it right, but it tries so hard - it’s painful.

We can all strike the high moral ground. Some of these figures are extortionate. But what’s the alternative? If Chris Evans is not worth £2.2m, what is he worth?  And if they paid him less, would nurses and teachers be paid more for their efforts? I believe those hard-workers are underpaid, but BBC salaries cannot impact on the wage level of your district nurse.

My dad’s nursing home has a huge turnover of care staff.  As the minimum wage grows, I am told that recruitment proves ever more challenging. Folk prefer an easy job for the same cash, rather than being moaned at as dawn breaks by folk who are as grumpy and intolerable as I shall be at 90.  Whilst there may be a case for an absolute minimum wage, as that level rises as it has, it distorts the market. And care homes suffer. Market distortion is the same both ends of the salary scale. Intervene at your peril.

How would life be in your broadcast work-place if all the salaries were left on a tea-stained copy of an old excel spreadsheet in the kitchen. There would be outrage.  The list of salary status is never, ever spot on.  Some people are overpaid for historical reasons - and some absolute stars are not yet given their worth. As a manager you try to sort it out honourably step-by-step as best you can; and the market means that your newcomers will very quickly achieve their worth. You could fix it overnight - but it would cost.

Are top talent driven by money? Often not.  The experts suggest that, for many folk, it’s not the number one consideration.   They finessed their craft painfully at a time when no-one would pay them mega-bucks.  They honed their natural gifts doing something they loved doing.  And people offered them increasing amounts of money to work for them.  Would you turn it down? Have some talent accepted lower settlements in recent years in view of the climate? Yes. Have some turned down more lucrative offers elsewhere? Yes.

What is happening now at the BBC as a result of today’s figures?  Those lower down the list will be moaning about why they are not higher than colleagues who may well be of lower calibre and value.  They will want more – and they’ll likely get it next time around.  Management, agents and talent now all have intricate knowledge of one side of the negotiating equation and that’s darned ridiculous.

Are BBC salaries too high? From what I know of the commercial world. Absolutely not.  Certainly their radio broadcasters are exactly where I’d imagine they would be. Let’s not forget too that most folk centre-stage enjoy but a short spell in the sunshine.  I’d suggest there are still too many folk working at the BBC, and it’s not as efficient as it should be, but that’s another question entirely.

Has this exposed an alarming gender disparity? Yes. But we knew that would be the case - and there are less destructive ways to illustrate it. And, to their credit, the BBC are already doing as much, if not more than any other broadcaster (Channel 4 do well too), in trying to remedy the gender imbalance in employment.  Salary equity will naturally follow.

This decision to publish was a cheap bit of political point-scoring. But that easy win has cost the licence payer money in future negotiations and – if nothing else - there is a very real cost simply of the hassle of the next few months in handling the tetchy tirades resulting from this openness.

This was not a good idea. The BBC will now be hit by instinctive visceral criticism by the same moaning minnies who accuse our politicians of ‘creaming off’ a salary which would be clearly insufficient to attract any remotely successful figure in business. Do we really want our broadcasters to be as bad as our Ministers?


  1. A good read - not sure I agree with it all but that's what blogs are about! The public funds the BBC, why shouldn't they know how it spends some of its money? I'd push for full disclosure - not just talent but management too and all their procurement. What is there to hide? And the numbers on their own don't mean anything in Chris Evans overpaid at £2.2 million pounds? It depends on your perspective. But surely it's useful for new talent and people who aspire to working at BBC Radio 2 - they now know that you could be Jo Whiley and earn less than £200,000. It's a huge coup for the BBC that they are paying Chris Evans directly and not via a production least they're able to reveal what he's being paid..under some of his previous arrangements with the BBC that wouldn't have been possible. So, I consider this good progress and hope to see more transparency in future. I'd like to see Bauer and Global revealing the earnings of their talent too - this is particularly important since both organisations run 'academies' encouraging people to come into the industry, surely they have a duty to be upfront about their earning potential? Thanks for the blog, looking forward to the next one. All the best.

  2. Thanks for comments. BBC exec salaries are already published, of course

  3. It's hard not to see this whole issue as an attempt by the Government to undermine and disrupt the BBC, whose independence they see as a threat, of course. They would like nothing more than a public outcry that saw the end of the licence fee, and the likely consequent shackling of the BBC to one of their media buddies, who could then deliver the same results that are possible with the printed media.

    Cynical? Moi?

  4. One to distract: Stir up resentment. A weak government's attempt to manipulate our focus away from Brexit/ cabinet in-fighting. SO transparent. Shades of the 'baby boomers v twenty somethings'manufactured 'at loggerheads'row. Sure; some key findings, but a cheap shot (except if you're highly paid, of course!)

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. I guess you have now read paragraph 10 Rachel?


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