The UK parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has published its Report into the BBC Annual Report and Accounts 2017/18: Equal Pay at the BBC. It finds that:
“The BBC acts as a beacon in public life,” stated Damian Collins MP, Chair of the DCMS Committee. 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.”
The DCMS inquiry into BBC Pay followed allegations made by the corporation’s then China Editor Carrie Gracie of systematic pay discrimination against women. The Committee commended her for using a ‘protracted and distressing ordeal’ to make points of principle for other women employed by the BBC.
Evidence of a gender imbalance among the BBC’s top-earning staff emerged in 2017 when it was forced to publish a list of employees earning more than £150,000 which showed that two-thirds, including the seven highest earners, were men.
In evidence, the BBC was accused of a lack of transparency that helped normalise an approach to pay that was ‘discriminatory and unlawful’ with many BBC staff being ‘deliberately misled’ by BBC management over salaries.
MPs found that ad hoc personality-led pay decisions for senior positions and a lack of central oversight led to the development of pay inequalities, with responsibilities for setting salaries devolved to managers or programme editors; in some cases, ‘misuses of managerial discretion’ were highlighted.
“The BBC pay structure lacks central oversight and allows for too much managerial discretion over salaries,” said the Committtee. “Pay decisions for senior positions appear to be made on an ad hoc basis: someone in the executive team agrees a pay settlement, without consideration of what the decision means for others that sit within that same band. 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 recommended.
The imposition of Personal Service Companies also came in for criticism. “As a direct result of the BBC’s policy of insisting that presenters set up Personal Service Companies, many are now facing bills of hundreds of thousands of pounds in unpaid income tax and national insurance contributions,” claimed Collins. “These are life-changing consequences. Where there’s evidence that people were coerced into setting up these companies so they could carry on working as presenters, the BBC should offer compensation to cover their losses.”
“The fact that presenters were also cut adrift by losing out on maternity pay or sick pay is deplorable. It was unforgettable to hear BBC presenter Kirsty Lang describe how she continued working throughout her treatment after being diagnosed with cancer.”
MPs condemned the imposition of personal service companies as falling short of standards expected by the BBC. The Committee described as ‘a disgrace’ evidence that BBC presenters were made to feel that a PSC was a mandatory condition of work.
The Committee welcomes the BBC’s decision to launch a grievance process for presenters under independent supervision to establish whether it should bear some liability for unpaid national insurance contributions. In cases where it is clear people were coerced into setting up a PSC in order to carry on working for the BBC and face substantial claims for outstanding tax, the BBC should offer compensation for financial loss.
The Committee found that the BBC’s handling of staff concerns about equal pay and Personal Service Companies to be ‘extremely disappointing’ in terms of a failure to properly consult staff and take proactive steps.
Among the wider issues highlighted by the Committee:
BBC funding for free TV licences for over-75s:
The DCMS Committee was concerned at the lack of progress by the BBC to meet its obligation to take over funding free TV licences for those over 75, reducing its licence fee income by £200 million in the current year, rising to £727 million by 2020-21.
MPs are calling for immediate consultation with those affected by any changes with detailed plans produced in the next annual report.
BBC Parliament broadcasting channel:
The report expressed concern over the future of BBC Parliament channel, with the possibility of it moving to an online only service.
The Committee published a memo received from the BBC in October giving assurances that some announced changes were still up for discussion. The report welcomes this announcement but expresses concern about the future of BBC Parliament as a broadcast channel. It calls for the BBC to lay out its new strategy and report back to both Houses with a new vision of the service by the end of the year.