Politicians criticize 'cavalier use of public money'

LONDON

An influential report by a group of British politicians has accused the BBC of being cavalier with public money and of rewarding failure.

The latest row highlights payments made to former BBC director general George Entwistle and former chief operating officer Caroline Thomson, who left the BBC with pay offs of £450,000 ($732,000) and £670,000 ($1.09 million), respectively.

The criticism by the Public Accounts Committee follows Wednesday’s damning report by former Sky News chief Nick Pollard, who said the Beeb was “completely incapable” of dealing with the fallout from a decision to abandon an investigation into child sex abuse by the late BBC star Jimmy Savile.

The members of Parliament, led by the Labour party’s Margaret Hodge, said that public servants should not be rewarded for failure.

She said, “That was exactly what happened when the BBC Trust paid off…Entwistle.

“In order to speed his departure, he was paid £450,000, twice what he was contractually entitled to, and then, if that were not bad enough, 12 months’ private medical cover and a contribution to the cost of his legal fees and public relations advice were added to the package.

“This cavalier use of public money is out of line with public expectations and what is considered acceptable elsewhere in the public sector.”

But Chris Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust that represents British license fee payers, denounced the MPs’ report as “shabby,” and said it was legally doubtful that the BBC would be able to recoup any of the money handed out to Entwistle despite the criticism of the former director general in Pollard’s report.

“I think the treatment by (the Public Accounts Committee) is a bit shabby,” he said. “We sent them a detailed account why we have taken the decision we did on Entwistle.

“We needed to act quickly, not hang about. When you read the Pollard report it makes you realize how important it was to act quickly. I don’t think it is fair. We can’t retrospectively change people’s contractual arrangements.”

In the U.K. many commentators are astonished that no BBC toppers have been sacked as a result of the Pollard report, which called for sweeping changes to the Beeb’s management culture.

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