New chairman calls high salaries 'toxic'

In his first public speech since taking over as chairman of the BBC Trust in May, Chris Patten called the high salaries of its top staffers “a toxic” issue and ordered a cut in the number of senior managers and further pay reductions.

Patten’s remarks came in the Royal Television Society’s Fleming Memorial Lecture Wednesday.

Responding to criticism that the BBC remains top heavy, he said, “There are still too many senior managers — currently 3% of the workforce. I want to see this cut to more like 1% by 2015 at the latest, to create a smaller group of people more clearly accountable for spending.”

Patten’s views contrasted with BBC director-general Mark Thompson’s comments in April that “it’s extremely hard now to fill senior jobs in the BBC and increasingly remuneration is a factor.”

Thompson had said salaries at the BBC were substantially lower than equivalent jobs at other broadcasters and that he was led to believe BBC1 controller Jay Hunt moved Channel 4 because she would be better remunerated.

Patten also said that members of the BBC executive board would not receive a bonus and would lose their private health insurance benefits. He outlined changes to BBC Worldwide, the pubcaster’s commercial arm that distributes programs and runs a portfolio of international webs including BBC America. Patten said while privatizing Worldwide made no sense, attracting private finance for its non-core activities should be considered.

“It may be that there are other ways to structure parts of the BBC’s commercial businesses that could help to bring in external investment and promote growth,” Patten said. “That’s something I’ve asked the director-general to look at.”

Patten asked Thompson to see how Worldwide could work more closely with other U.K. broadcasters and producers.

“The U.K. has two advantages over the rest of the world: the quality of much of our television and the English language. I want to know whether there is scope for Worldwide, with its scale, to make more of those advantages for the benefit of the whole economy.”

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