James Purnell has described a damning report on BBC payoffs as “humbling” - but claimed it is unfair to blame the BBC Trust for not preventing the bumper severance deals.
The corporation’s director of strategy and digital said the National Audit Office’s (NAO) report, which revealed the BBC spent £369m on payoffs since 2005, showed it had “lost its way on payments”.
Purnell defended the governing body following growing disquiet about the BBC Trust’s failure to prevent senior managers from receiving larger payoffs than they were contractually entitled to.
“It’s unfair to blame the BBC Trust. This is clearly not their job,” the former Labour minister told Newsnight.
“It’s our job as the executive to set the pay for people, it’s the job of the non-executives as well. The Trust asked for this report and it’s a collective responsibility of BBC management.”
Former Labour culture secretary Ben Bradshaw and media commentator Steve Hewlett were among those to question the role the Trust played in payouts on Monday, with the former claiming that it was “too cosy” with the BBC management board.
The Trust underlined that the way the BBC is set up prevents it from intervening in issues of pay.
“The Royal Charter specifically prevents the BBC Trust from getting involved in any matters relating to remuneration, other than that of the director general,” trustee Anthony Fry told Radio 4’s World at One.
“It was set up because of a feeling post-Hutton that the governors were far too close to managers and it was believed by separating the Trust from the day-to-day management of the BBC, these sort of problems of closeness could be avoided,” he added.
Separately, Purnell refused to reveal who at the BBC had wrongly authorised the £375,000 payoff for Roly Keating. The NAO report revealed that the former director of archive content had handed back his payoff because the process to award it was found to be “seriously deficient”.