Mark Thompson insists BBC Trust was informed about head of news Mark Byford's £1m pay-off - Press Gazette

Mark Thompson insists BBC Trust was informed about head of news Mark Byford's £1m pay-off

Former BBC director general Mark Thompson is set appear before the Public Accounts Committee to explain pay-offs to senior executives which included around £1m to former head of news Mark Byford.

The PAC yesterday heard the corporation had "lost the plot" over pay and remuneration to exiting BBC top brass.

Thompson yesterday said he wanted to clear up some "inaccuracies" which had occurred during the PAC's previous sitting.

They included the suggestion he had been involved in approving a payout to the former boss of BBC Knowledge, Roly Keating, who was given a package amounting to £375,000 despite having a new job lined up.

A report by the National Audit Office last month found the payment had not been properly authorised and Keating, now the boss of the British Library, has since paid the money back.

Thompson, who was director general at the time of the payment, said he would not have approved the payout if he had been consulted.

Yesterday's hearing stemmed from a report by the National Audit Office which highlighted a number of cases in which large payments were made, to which some recipients were not strictly entitled.

In some cases money was paid in lieu of notice – even though that notice had been served – and in some others, redundancy payments were handed out where there was no entitlement, or where people were walking into new jobs.

BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten said yesterday he hoped senior staff who received pay-offs to which they were not entitled would "make a gesture" and pay some money back.

But he said there would be no legal effort to force them to as more evidence emerged of how the corporation doled out money to its top executives.

Director-general Tony Hall admitted the corporation had "lost the plot" over pay and remuneration as BBC bosses faced a parliamentary committee to discuss a National Audit Office (NAO) report that showed some departing staff had been paid hundreds of thousands of pounds more than they were contractually owed.

Thompson said he wanted to take issue with suggestions that the BBC Trust had not been fully aware of the details of severance packages to former deputy director general Mark Byford and former marketing chief Sharon Baylay.

BBC Trust member Anthony Fry told the PAC that members of the Trust were not always included in decision making.

And he said there was "some disconnect" between what Thompson had written in a letter to the Trust about Byford's pay-off in which he had apparently declared it was within contractual arrangements, when the NAO had found it was not.

Thompson said: "I am looking forward to laying the facts in front of the Public Accounts Committee in person, but there are a couple of inaccuracies that emerged in yesterday's testimony to the PAC which I would like to clear up immediately.

"First, the BBC Trust was fully informed in advance, in writing as well as orally, about the proposed severance packages for Mark Byford and Sharon Baylay.

"Specifically, they were told that it was proposed that in both cases formal notice would not be served immediately but in the following year.

"An email from my office to the head of the Trust unit makes this clear.

"Both this email and a detailed analysis of the value for money case for the redundancies were sent to the Trust days before the Executive Board remuneration committee met to consider the proposed packages.

"I had made sure that the Trust were aware of and understood all potentially contentious issues (including the fact that formal notice would not be served at once).

"The Trust had every opportunity to express any concerns about the proposals before they were approved and indeed the final version of the cases included input from the Trust.

"Second, contrary to what was suggested in yesterday's testimony, I was not involved in the negotiation or approval of the severance package which was given to Roly Keating.

"If I had been consulted, I would not have approved it."

Byford left the BBC after 31 years' service with £949,000 when his post closed.

Fry was asked yesterday by the committee's chair, Margaret Hodge, if Thompson had lied to him over the details of Byford's payout.

"I can't say he lied," said Fry, but went on to make reference to the "disconnect".

The BBC Trust was chaired by Sir Michael Lyons at the time Thompson wrote to them about Byford's departure. He was succeeded on 1 May 2011 by Lord Patten, who yesterday told of the Trust's "shock and dismay" when it emerged that staff had been paid more than they were contractually owed in some cases.


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