I’m by no means the first person to make this call but isn’t it about time the Chair of the BBC’s Trust was elected by the licence fee payer and the Trust had a great power to remove BBC Executives from post?
Coalition Ministers have made much of scrapping quangos and re-enforcing democracy and yet the BBC, an organisation which is gifted almost three and a half billion pounds of public cash every year, looks set to remain a democracy-free zone.
It’s obviously not possible for the next Trust Chair to be elected, the vacancy already exists and there’s no time to change the BBC’s governance rules but whoever Ministers announce in the coming weeks really should be the last appointed post holder.
The Trust exists to serve the Licence Fee Payer without ever having to bother to seek their approval, consent or mandate. It’s a near-medieval system which neatly encapsulates the mindset of ‘we know best’.
In contrast a Trust elected by the public would have a genuine mandate – and an unshakable duty – to act on their behalf. At present it’s little more than an ‘after the event’ regulator which lacks the pro-active powers needed to truly protect the Licence Fee payer.
Even after serious and potentially expensive errors have been made by BBC managers the Trust won’t always act.
A few weeks back I contacted the Trust asking what action they’d take if the BBC lost the Miriam O’Reilly employment tribunal. The response simply informed me this would be a matter for the BBC Executive “in the first instance”, not the Trust.
That can’t be the right way to protect Licence Fee payers.
The BBC Executive presided over a system where people discriminated against a presenter based on their age. Someone then decided to defend the subsequent employment tribunal claim, the resulting loss of which exposes the Licence Fee payer to making compensation payouts.
Yet it seems that same Executive is to oversee the fallout and cleanup. Essentially we have a self-regulating Executive which is only sometimes answerable to an internal regulating ‘Trust’.
In fairness, the Trust deserves some praise for dismantling the Executive’s case for closing 6Music but again, it lacked the follow through to remove from post the managers and executives who were hellbent on making what the Trust’s ruling exposed as a poor decision.
If the BBC Trust can’t – or won’t – grasp the nettle of oversight in such cases what’s the point of it?
Instead the BBC’s hugely overpaid officer class – who we’ve constantly been told are industry leading and world class – are simply going to be trained not to discriminate in future.
I don’t believe a BBC headed by an accountable figure would have been so dismissive or shallow in its response.
Neither would a truly accountable body have fought to resist for so long the scrutiny of the National Audit Office into its reckless spending, a situation the coalition government has thankfully finally resolved.
The BBC’s past deliberate deafness to wholly justified complaints over executive and ‘talent’ pay and benefits and its current refusal to fully disclose just how many millionaires it creates off the back of ordinary families shows its true position on public accountability.
Change is needed at the BBC, too many managers believe it exists solely to given them a nice entry on the CV and a lucrative salary – as the BBC’s own figures show, it employs most of the top earning public sector staff in the UK. The best place to start challenging that mindset is at the vey top.
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