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BBC 'didn't lose plot' over pay-off
Former BBC director general Mark Thompson speaks to the Commons Public Accounts Committee at Portcullis House
The confusion at the heart of the BBC's decision-making has been laid bare as its executives - past and present - argued over who knew what and when about massive pay-offs to senior staff.
Former director-general Mark Thompson, one of seven witnesses called by the Public Accounts Committee, was forced to deny a charge that the BBC had "lost the plot" when it agreed a pay-off of almost £1 million to his former deputy, Mark Byford.
Margaret Hodge MP, who chairs the committee, asked Mr Thompson why Mr Byford needed an extra payment when he was contractually due around half a million pounds, saying: "Why was £500,000, which is for most people megabucks, not enough?"
Mr Thompson, who said he did not believe there was any "favouritism" in deciding pay-offs, said the pay-off to Mr Byford was needed so he would remain "focused" on his job and not be distracted. He told the committee that in his view Mr Byford's severance package represented "value for money" and he explained that he had been under "ferocious pressure" from the Trust to make savings by cutting senior staff.
Marcus Agius, former chairman of the BBC executive board remuneration committee, also described the pay-off to Mr Byford as "value for money".
Ms Hodge told the former banker that the committee "were astounded you took that view", saying: "The shareholders of the BBC are the licence fee-payers and I cannot for the life of me see how you can justify these levels of redundancy payments."
Mr Thompson said the decision for Mr Byford to leave the BBC with a total payout of £949,000 was part of a move to axe senior executives which would give the BBC "£19 million of savings for every year into the future" and he believed he "had the full support of the BBC Trust" to order it.
In written evidence published ahead of the meeting, Mr Thompson accused BBC Trust boss Lord Patten and trustee Anthony Fry of ''fundamentally misleading'' committee members at a previous hearing.
At their last appearance before the committee, Lord Patten and Mr Fry told MPs that members of the Trust were not always included in decision-making. Mr Thompson said he stood by his claim that the committee had been misled when they were told the Trust had been "kept in the dark" about severance packages.
Nicholas Kroll, director of the BBC Trust, said he was not "closely involved" in the preparation of the note on October 7 2010 about the Byford payment. He drew gasps from the MPs when he conceded the pay-off was "unquestionably a large figure" but a matter for the remuneration committee and not the Trust.