What price a safe pair of hands?

Mark Byford Mark Byford spent 32 years at the BBC and held a sequence of high level jobs

The levels of executive pay and bonuses caused a lot of disgruntlement when I was at the BBC and I'd be surprised if the subject doesn't still ignite canteen conversation.

Such was the general feeling of resentment at the scale of high salaries and pension pots for those at the top that in the last year that I was editor of Ariel, the paper ran several pieces on the subject, some time before the topic became a cause for press and politicians to get steamed up about.

That was four years ago and, while the focus has shifted from generous pay to hefty pay-offs, the whole system of salaries at one end through to redundancies at the other has clearly retained its ability to cause shock and annoyance.

Symbol of excess

One man, Mark Byford, has become the symbol of BBC 'excess' and the target for most of the criticism voiced in parliament and across the media. The scale of his salary and the terms of his £1m settlement have become a kind of shorthand for cushy jobs and lax management.

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He once told me that he had never asked for a pay rise and had accepted what he was offered without negotiation.”

End Quote Andrew Harvey Former Ariel Editor

Watching the BBC as an outsider now, it has been uncomfortable to observe the Jimmy Savile imbroglio, the rise and demise of George Entwistle, the damages paid out to Lord McAlpine following child abuse allegations - and now the senior managers saga.

It is hard to feel sympathy for people leaving the BBC with six, let alone seven-figure compensation but, taking the case of Mark Byford in particular, I have felt there is a side to his story that hasn't been heard.

He spent 32 years at the BBC and held a sequence of high-level jobs before becoming deputy director general in 2004. Most notably, he piloted the BBC through the storm that followed the Hutton report and the departure of chairman Gavyn Davies and director general Greg Dyke.

Non-job

His pay rose with promotion and his pension swelled accordingly. He once told me that he had never asked for a pay rise and had accepted what he was offered without negotiation. By the time he left two years ago he was pushing half a million a year and, to raise the temperature of indignation still further, there was a feeling among plenty of staff that his was something of a non-job.

That, of course, was not fair then and it's not fair now. As well as being deputy DG, Mark Byford was head of journalism, a wide-ranging brief that only someone with his breadth of experience could make meaningful.

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In my view, it is a near certainty that had Byford still been in his post, most, if not all, of the recent damaging events would have been avoided.”

End Quote Andrew Harvey

It was a role that involved meetings and liaison and planning and co-ordination and talking to people. Not the sexy stuff of broadcasting but the thoroughness of administration.

In my view, it is a near certainty that had Byford still been in his post, most, if not all, of the recent damaging events would have been avoided. He would have been consulted about contentious stories. He would have known what was in the pipeline. He would have stepped in early. Ministers would not be talking of the BBC's annus horribilis.

Always vulnerable

When costs must be slashed and savings made, someone in Byford's position in any organisation becomes vulnerable. As a high-profile casualty, his removal sent a signal across the BBC that job cuts went right up to the executive board.

In theory, a redundancy policy makes good financial sense. Pay out now and get your money back later. In practice it doesn't always work out that way.

Removing Mark Byford's salary from the books may have felt like wise accounting, but for the BBC, always in the spotlight of public opinion and with a gold standard reputation for its journalism to protect, the remuneration for his safe pair of hands now looks like money well spent.

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