The BBC Trust, the Beeb’s internal regulator, is to give government spending watchdog the National Audit Office free rein to scrutinise its accounts. The Beeb is bowing to government pressure to give the NAO unfettered access to what it spends. This means that top BBC talent could have their salaries published for the first time. Plus many BBC stars make their shows for the Beeb through their own production companies. BBC stars who own their own production companies include Steve Coogan (Baby Cow), presenter Stephen Fry (Sprout), Trevor Eve (Projector) and chat show host Graham Norton (So Productions). Ex-BBC chat show host Jonathan Ross, who recently signed a new deal with ITV, made his BBC Friday night chat show through his own Hotsauce TV production company. I’m told that the BBC was prepared to go up to £20 million ($31 million) to tie Ross in to his 3-year contract. Ross settled for £18 million.
The BBC will however negotiate with the NAO as to what can be made public, citing commercial confidentiality. As a sop to the BBC, government ministers have agreed that the NAO will report the findings of any of its investigations first to the BBC Trust. The audit office usually reports directly to MPs. Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat culture spokesman, will announce the NAO investigation into the Beeb’s accounts later today at his party’s annual conference in Liverpool.
Back in July, BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons called on the Beeb to publish how much its stars earn. Lyons said that Auntie should publish numbers of who earns what in anonymous bandings. One talent agent I spoke to then poured cold water on this, calling it “just a sop to the government”. The BBC would need his clients’ permission to quote how much his clients earn, he said.