BBC director general Tony Hall apologises to stars over tax

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image captionLord Hall said he wanted to "repair that relationship" with presenters

The BBC director general has said sorry to presenters who are facing big tax bills after being given no choice about changes to the way they were employed.

Tony Hall admitted some stars had been told they would only have a career in the BBC if they were paid through their own personal service companies (PSCs).

That led to around 100 presenters being investigated by tax authorities.

Labour MP Caroline Flint said stars had been "hounded for not paying tax when they didn't really have a choice".

The BBC has come under fire for telling some presenters they had to be paid through their own companies - meaning they were responsible for their own tax and didn't get benefits like sick pay or maternity leave.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, told a hearing on Wednesday the fallout had "caused a lot of misery and hardship".

The presenters include BBC Radio 4 Front Row host Kirsty Lang, who has previously spoken about having to work through cancer treatment after being taken off a staff contract.

media captionMarch 2018: Radio 4 Front Row presenter speaks to DCMS committee

Speaking to the committee on Wednesday, Lord Hall admitted "people were pushed into" the arrangements in the past but said he wanted to "repair that relationship" with the top talent.

The corporation has identified 800 people whose employment had changed, including 300 with PSCs.

Last October, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs [HMRC] said it had opened investigations into around 100 BBC-related PSCs.

The BBC is now trying to reach a deal with HMRC to settle all the cases and Lord Hall said he had apologised to the affected presenters in person.

'Tough and hard meetings'

"After April 2017, the meetings we've had with people who have been directly affected have allowed me to directly apologise to as many of those who were affected by this as we could do," he said.

"I'm very happy to repeat that again today. But what we've been trying to do over last two years since April 2017 is to work with those people.

"We've had some very tough and hard meetings with some of the people who are affected by IR35 [tax laws] - very hard meetings.

"Our aim is to get these things sorted. Why I put a huge amount of impetus on trying to sort this with HMRC is because I think that will actually allow these people to get on with their work and us to have a proper relationship with our presenters.

"I take no joy at all from being at odds with people who are our front line to our to our viewers and listeners. None. And I want to repair that relationship."

The National Audit Office (NAO) has said some BBC News presenters were employed through PSCs from 2004-12, and other radio and TV hosts with contracts of more than six months and/or £10,000 per year were employed that way from 2008-12.

A year ago, former Look North presenter Christa Ackroyd, who was among those who set up personal service companies, was left with a tax bill of up to £420,000 after losing a case against HMRC.

EastEnders overspend

The BBC was also questioned over the EastEnders set rebuild going £27m over budget.

The original 2015 forecast for the scheme was £59.7m, but the revised budget is now £86.7m, the National Audit Office (NAO) revealed last year.

The corporation is building a new Albert Square and extending the set.

Lord Hall explained there had been "issues round inflation" and "around the nature of the contract. And we came across problems to do with asbestos which we couldn't have foreseen".

image captionA brand new Queen Vic pub is being built as part of the new set

But he added that having the new set should help increase audience figures for the soap, saying: "I believe in this investment hugely."

Richard Dawkins, chief operating officer of BBC Content, explained that 18% of the budget had been set aside as contingency money to deal with asbestos etc.

He was then asked by Labour MP Chris Evans why the project went so over budget, given the contingency plans.

"The risk was known and money was set aside to deal with it, but the full extent of the work required cannot be defined until you're in the ground and on site," Mr Dawkins said.

'We haven't wasted money'

"It has taken longer as we know, and the budget is higher at the end than where we started, but these are factors driven by the market, which I think has been experienced by many organisations over recent years."

The BBC's deputy director general Ann Bulford said: "We haven't wasted money, we just didn't estimate enough money for it at the start."

Asked if they could have moved EastEnders from Elstree to another site, Ms Bulford said they did look at that as an option "but the conclusion was the best value for money... was to continue where we were".

Mr Evans than asked if flying an aeroplane into the EastEnders set and then starting over - in the style of an Emmerdale plotline a few years ago - might have made more financial sense.

Lord Hall joked: "I think we are now in W1A territory and I don't blame you for suggesting that but no," referring to the BBC's spoof comedy drama.

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