BBC failures over equal pay led to 'crisis of trust' among staff, say MPs as they demand end to 'opaque decision-making' - Press Gazette

BBC failures over equal pay led to 'crisis of trust' among staff, say MPs as they demand end to 'opaque decision-making'

MPs have demanded an end to the BBC’s “culture of invidious, opaque decision-making” over pay which it said has led to a “crisis of trust” among staff.

In its report into equal pay at the BBC, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee said evidence has shown women at the corporation earn “far less” than men doing comparable jobs.

This is despite a gender pay report and audit published in October last year which found “no systemic discrimination against women” at the BBC.

The BBC’s handling of equal pay has been “extremely disappointing” as it failed to properly consult with staff or take proactive steps, today’s report said.

“This has resulted in a crisis of trust which urgently needs to be addressed by the corporation.”

The BBC hit back by saying “much of the report is already out of date”.

But Carrie Gracie (pictured), whose resignation as China editor prompted today’s report, tweeted that the BBC was “wrong” to dismiss the committee’s “damning report” as out of date.

She tweeted: “New internal process is still failing. Failed to make me equal. Only after my threat of immediate legal action did DG overturn outcome. I gave all ££ away. Many #bbcwomen still waiting.”

Gracie discovered that her £135,000 salary was less than other BBC international editors when the salaries of its on-air talent paid more than £150,000 were first released under Government mandate in July last year.

After resigning from her post and accusing the BBC of a “secretive and illegal pay culture” in January, the corporation eventually apologised to Gracie in June and admitted she was underpaid.

The report said: “The BBC’s insistence that Carrie Gracie’s underpayment was ‘inadvertent’ points towards a concerning lack of oversight from senior BBC officials, particularly as there were only four international news editors at the time.

“This culture of invidious, opaque decision-making must end.”

It added that the BBC should also be forced to publish the salaries of BBC Studios staff and those of high-earning presenters of BBC programmes made by independent production companies.

MPs urged an end to “misuses of managerial discretion” and decisions being made on the basis of individual personalities, calling for sufficient oversight with decisions based on “transparent, objective criteria”.

DCMS Committee chairman Damian Collins said: “The BBC acts as a beacon in public life. As an employer it has an even higher level of duty than others to advance equality of opportunity – but this it has failed to do.

“The BBC must take urgent action now if it’s to restore its reputation on equal pay and win back the trust of staff. There must be a reduction in the time taken to resolve grievances.”

BBC Radio 4 Front Row presenter Samira Ahmed shared a statement from the BBC Women group which formed following allegations of unequal pay.

It said: “We are grateful to the Select Committee for clearly spelling out the experience of so many women seeking equal pay at the BBC: intractable processes, lack of transparency, evasive tactics, and no genuinely independent oversight.”

The group added: “BBC management must now lead by example, implement the recommendations made by the Select Committee immediately, meet its legal obligations on pay and its moral duties as an organisation funded by the licence fee payer.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “While we still have more to do, much of this report is already out of date.

“Recent disclosures by other media organisations show that the BBC’s gender pay gap is among the smallest and well below the national average. But we do hold ourselves to a higher standard.

“That is why our action on pay has seen the BBC make real progress in addressing equal pay cases, carry out an independent audit of equal pay overseen by a former Court of Appeal judge, introduce independent oversight so that disputes can be resolved, take clear steps to rebalance top talent pay, reform our pay structure to ensure fairness and give an unprecedented level of transparency and information about pay ranges for all staff, and set up independent reviews to see what further steps should be taken on pay transparency.

“That’s why so many colleagues have contributed to projects we’re doing – on gender, ethnicity, disability, LGBT and socio-economic diversity.  We all want to make this a great place to work, where people are properly rewarded for their expertise and experience.”

MPs said the publication of salaries for talent earning more than £150,000 at the BBC had helped improve equality at the top end of the scale, but that there must now be greater transparency across the board.

It said the BBC’s new Career Path Framework introduced this year, designed to provide staff with transparency on salaries within their “job family” and pay range, is actually “no use” to women who want to compare their salaries to men doing comparable work as they cannot see the numbers of each gender in each quartile.

BBC staff told the committee in confidence they have “little faith” in the framework.

The report added: “Staff raised concerns that the system simply acts to defend existing inequalities rather than accurately reflecting the work that people do and value that they add.”

The DCMS committee praised former BBC China editor Carrie Gracie (pictured) for “using her protracted and distressing ordeal to make points of principle for other women”.

In its report the committee also recommended:

  • Training for managers so they understand their legal duties on equal pay
  • Appointing independent full-time managers to investigate pay grievances and hear cases
  • A commitment to complete all ongoing pay grievance processes within the next six months
  • Compensation for financial loss to individuals coerced into setting up Personal Service Companies.

The report said the BBC’s policy of engaging hundreds of presenters through PSCs between 2007 and 2012 had caused “life-altering financial and personal consequences for many”.

Many presenters are currently facing liabilities of hundreds of thousands of pounds in unpaid income tax and national insurance contributions as a result and MPs said the BBC must take “urgent action” to improve the way it deals with taxation of its freelance employees.

A statement from a group of BBC presenters, shared by Ahmed, said they were “heartened” by the vindication of their views by the report.

“In light of these findings it is time for the BBC to admit its liability, to compensate all those who are now facing financial losses and difficulties through no fault of their own, and to engage positively with presenters to ensure the essential changes happen quickly,” the statement said.

Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said the report “underlines the need for cultural change at the BBC that prioritises transparency and the rebuilding of trust amongst staff”.

She said: “The changes that have taken place in salary structures this year are only the first step in achieving genuine transparency that ensures that women can be confident they are not being short-changed when it comes to their salaries or their terms and conditions.

“The proposal to publish a gender breakdown of the ratio of men and women in salary quartiles should be implemented straight away.

“The report rightly highlights the unacceptable delays in sorting out equal pay complaints – there are examples of cases where informal processes have dragged on for as long as a year and formal grievances and appeals are routinely taking longer than the maximum 90-day targets. That’s not good enough.

“We need consistent time-frames that deal with the problems effectively and efficiently, with outcomes that address pay inequities including back-payments of lost wages and pension contributions.”

Picture: Parliament TV



Press Gazette's must-read weekly newsletter featuring interviews, data, insight and investigations.