THE chairman of the BBC Trust has defended giving a year’s salary as a pay-off to former director-general George Entwistle as “justified and necessary”.
Lord Patten said the size of the award – twice what would have been expected – was needed “to conclude matters quickly” and avoid lengthy negotiations.
The BBC Trust, the corporation’s governing body, came under pressure from the government as Culture Secretary Maria Miller described Mr Entwistle’s £450,000 deal as “tough to justify,” a sentiment echoed by Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman.
Mrs Miller questioned the size of the severance payment, given that Mr Entwistle quit over the botched Newsnight investigation into child abuse allegations.
“This is a large amount of money, and tough to justify considering the circumstances of Mr Entwistle’s departure and his contractual arrangements,” she said.
“The Trust will need to justify this – it is accountable to licence fee-payers in ensuring value for money, and we expect it to have considered that carefully.”
She later suggested public spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) could investigate, stating that were it to conduct a “value-for-money review”, she would expect the BBC to “co-operate fully”.
A spokesman for the NAO confirmed it would be speaking to the BBC Trust to investigate whether it should look at the severance payment.
Shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman called on Mr Entwistle to return half the money, saying: “The BBC Trust cannot justify a pay-off of double the amount laid down in his contract. George Entwistle should reflect on this and only take that to which he is entitled.”
Mr Entwistle is to receive a 12 months’ salary despite serving just 54 days in the job.
Under the standard executive board contract, he would normally be entitled to just six months’ pay, although, if he had been sacked, it would have been a year’s salary.
Tim Davie, the acting director-general, declined to be drawn on the issue yesterday, saying it was “a question that should be aimed at the chairman of the trust”.
In a letter to the chairman of the Commons culture, media and sport committee, John Whittingdale, Lord Patten said the payment had been agreed to avoid “long, drawn-out discussions and continuing uncertainty”. Were Mr Entwistle to have been sacked, the letter explains, he would have been entitled to 12 months’ notice in any case.
While Mr Cameron’s office has expressed its continuing support for Lord Patten, the former Conservative MP has endured calls for him to follow Mr Entwistle’s lead and resign.
Tory MP Philip Davies, a member of the culture, media and sport committee, said: “Lord Patten is part of the problem. He is saying ‘get a grip’ now because the whole issue is overwhelming him. But he wasn’t saying that when he took over at the BBC; he seemed to treat it as some kind of sinecure post, that he could get a well-paid job and do very little.”