THE pay bill for some of the BBC’s biggest stars, including Graham Norton and Jeremy Clarkson, is to be examined in a review by the BBC Trust which will look at how the costs compare to commercial rivals.
Chat-show host and Radio 2 star Norton, Top Gear’s Clarkson, Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman and Fiona Bruce from BBC1’s Antiques Roadshow are though to be among the highest-paid figures at the corporation.
The Trust has now announced it will look into the issue of “talent” pay – which is thought to amount to around £200 million annually – among its programme of reviews over the coming months.
The last time the trust scrutinised the issue was in 2009 at a time when there was disquiet about the levels of pay for big names such as Jonathan Ross, who has now left the BBC in the wake of the Sachsgate scandal.
An independent consultant with expertise in the market will be brought in to look at the BBC’s mechanisms for controlling its outlay for talent, which eats up the equivalent of more than 1.3 million licence fees.
The trust said that the review, beginning later this year, “will examine the BBC’s processes to control costs in recruiting and developing talent, and benchmark against the wider market”.
Last year’s annual report for the BBC revealed there are 14 stars who are paid more than £500,000 annually although that was down from 16 for the previous year.
The corporation said it had reduced its talent pay bill by 13 per cent since the last review on star pay in 2008-09.
The trust will examine whether measures taken in recent months have resulted in value for money and if more money can be saved. According to last year’s BBC annual report, 250 performers and presenters earned more than £100,000, including 14 with salaries between £500,000 to £5m.
The BBC’s governing body said it would also look at how the corporation recruits and develops its presenters and performers, and examine how BBC pay compares with its competitors in the wider market.
A spokeswoman for the BBC said: “We know that our audiences expect the best talent to appear on the BBC.
“This review will be an opportunity to re-examine the market to make sure that we continue to attract and retain quality on-air talent whilst ensuring value for money for licence-fee payers.”
Former BBC Breakfast host Susanna Reid is the latest presenter to defect to ITV to front its revamped breakfast offering, in a deal reportedly worth £1m.
Other BBC talent lured away by rivals in recent years include Christine Bleakley, Adrian Chiles and Alesha Dixon.
Meanwhile, it was yesterday revealed BBC Three boss Zai Bennett is to quit the channel for Sky ahead of plans to move it online. The executive, who joined the BBC in 2011 and is paid £212,100, said: “I’ve hugely enjoyed working at BBC Three, but this felt like an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.
“I leave BBC Three on top form, with its highest-ever viewing share and six nominations at this year’s Baftas.”
He will become director of Sky Atlantic – the pay channel that is home to big US dramas, including Game of Thrones and Mad Men. The former is filmed in various locations including Northern Ireland and Croatia.
BBC director of television Danny Cohen said: “Zai has been a fantastic controller of BBC Three and has led the channel to great success, in terms of quality, awards and audience performance. He’s a true gentleman and I will miss working with him.”
BBC Three will close in autumn next year and be replaced with an online service if the BBC’s plans are approved.