Entertainment & Arts

Culture Secretary wants BBC to be open about star pay

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has called on the BBC to be more open about how much it pays its top stars.

Speaking on BBC One's Andrew Marr Show, Mr Hunt said that the corporation should be clear about how it spends the public's money.

Earlier this month the BBC Trust said details of star pay would be revealed in bands, but not individual salaries.

Mr Hunt said the public was "genuinely divided" over the issue and needed to make up their own minds.

"The difficulty here is that the public is genuinely divided - some people say 'why should we pay huge salaries for stars on the BBC when we can see them on ITV?'," he said.

"Other people say 'look, one of the reasons I pay my licence fee is I want to see people like Brucie doing Strictly Come Dancing'.

"There is a genuine division there and I think the best way to resolve that is for the BBC to be open about the packages that it pays to celebrities.

"We have learned in government that transparency is the best way to solve a lot of these issues because you are saying to the public 'look, you're grown up, you make up your own mind'."

Mr Hunt said he also wanted to meet BBC director general, Mark Thompson, to discuss the salaries the corporation pays its top executives.

He said while the BBC had made "some steps in the right direction" it needed to show it was on the "same planet as everyone else" when it came to pay for top executives.

The BBC recently announced it would reduce the pay of its top executives and slim down its senior management.

Mr Hunt said: "We will be having discussions over the future of the next licence fee settlement next year in which I will be talking to Mark and the BBC management in a lot of detail.

"I do want the BBC to demonstrate that when it comes to their management pay they are on the same planet as everyone else.

"Because of the economic inheritance that we are facing, government ministers have been careful with every single penny of taxpayers' money and the BBC does need to show it is careful with every penny of licence fee payers' money as well."

Mr Hunt also said the way that the licence fee is collected may have to change to keep up with changes in technology.

He said while the government "accepts the principle of the licence fee... the way we collect it may have to be rethought".

And he also signalled that the BBC should consider reducing its online activity.

"The web is a very good area where the BBC needs to have clearer red lines on what it will and won't do."

Executive pensions

Meanwhile, claims in the Sunday Express that Mr Thompson and the BBC's executive directors stand to gain from a "secret pension pot" have been denied by the BBC.

The newspaper said a multi-million-pound so-called "slush fund" is for Mr Thompson and eight executive board members while BBC staff are being asked to accept a cap on the amount pensionable salaries of existing members can grow by to 1% a year.

But the BBC said the figures quoted form part of the remuneration for the executive board that is published annually in the BBC's Annual Report & Accounts.

In a statement the BBC said: "In addition to the changes to the Pension Scheme that the BBC is proposing we are also reviewing all aspects of pension provision, including that for senior managers.

"We will announce these together with any other changes to the proposals after the consultation closes."

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