Entertainment & Arts

Entwistle pay-off 'unavoidable'

Lord Patten and George Entwistle
Image caption Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, has defended the pay-off made to George Entwistle

The BBC Trust has insisted that the terms of its pay-off to former director general George Entwistle were the "best available in the circumstances".

The Public Accounts Committee said in December that the £450,000 paid to Mr Entwistle after 54 days in the job was out of line with public expectation.

The Trust responded that, as it had explained on several occasions, there was no lower cost alternative.

It expressed dismay at the Committee's criticism in the face of the evidence.

Mr Entwistle left the BBC in November 2012, in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal. His £450,000 pay-off was double the amount specified in his contract - and came with a year's health insurance and money for PR advice.

A response set out by the Trust said it understood the sum was "substantial", but the terms reached were "the best available in the circumstances given our contractual position".

"The evidence we provided to the Committee clearly shows that we were not in a position where the former Director-General would have left the BBC immediately in exchange for six months' pay - £225,000.

"We provided the Committee with a copy of the Compromise Agreement reached between the former Director-General and the BBC, a summary of the events leading to this agreement and a letter from the BBC Trust's legal advisers setting out the legal reasons why the payment was appropriate."

The Trust repeated that the only other options available to them were terminating Entwistle's contract, which would have automatically led to a 12-month pay-off, or seeking his immediate dismissal, which could have prompted a costly legal battle.

Policy change

In its report last month, the Public Accounts Committee said the Trust should not have agreed to pay the former director general 12-month's private medical cover or contributed to the cost of legal fees and public relations advice connected with his departure.

Responding, the trust said the overall package "was less than the director general's representatives had asked for but allowed us to conclude matters quickly, avoid any uncertainty and to focus on resolving fundamental issues of trust in BBC journalism".

The Trust denied that it had hindered parliamentary scrutiny into the proceedings by blocking an earlier NAO review of Entwistle's pay-off, reiterating that it was the Trust which had suggested a wider study of severance payments at the BBC by the National Audit Office (NAO).

The conclusions of such a review could prompt a change in BBC policy, the trust said.

It added that it had complied with all parliamentary requests, submitting all relevant documentation and giving evidence at the Public Accounts Committee and Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee hearings.

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