Controversy over how much the BBC pays its stars reignited on Thursday after a National Audit Office investigation was denied access to information about the fees of radio presenters.
The BBC Trust, the corporation’s governing body, refused to give details of presenters’ pay, as part of an NAO probe into costs, unless the comptroller and auditor- general signed a confidentiality and data protection waiver. Tim Burr, the comptroller, declined to do so.
Figures were produced by the BBC showing the total costs of staffing, including presenters, and indicated that overall the stars of shows accounted for an average of 77 per cent of that cost while all other staff were paid the remaining 23 per cent.
The NAO’s report, published on Thursday, showed a big disparity between the costs of BBC and commercial radio programme-making, and said the publicly funded broadcaster could do more to reduce its total £462m ($675m) radio budget.
But it added that it could not produce a full study of the situation because of the demands of the BBC Trust, the corporation’s governing body that commissioned the report.
Edward Leigh, the chairman of the Commons’ public accounts committee, said it was “scandalous” that the BBC had refused to provide a full breakdown of the costs of putting on radio shows such as Wake Up To Wogan on Radio 2 and the Chris Evans “drive-time” programme on the same station. The cost of making the latter’s programme was up to 20 times greater than the most expensive commercial radio drive-time show.
“The BBC must also account for why it spends much more money per hour than its commercial rivals on breakfast and drive-time shows. It is already clear from the NAO report that this is primarily down to presenters’ remuneration,” Mr Leigh said.
“But that brings us into territory where apparently parliament is not allowed to tread,” he added.
The NAO said the BBC had reached its cost-cutting target of £11m last year, but needed to work out why it cost more to produce similar programmes on some stations than others. It gave as an example music programmes, which cost twice as much to produce on Radio 2 as on Radio 3.
A spokesman for the BBC Trust said: “We would always start from the position that the NAO should have all the information that it wants, but in the particular situation of salaries, there are data protection issues, so the trust asked for additional safeguards to be put in place.
“The NAO were not prepared to sign up to that.”