Patten dismisses calls for BBC hierarchy reform

Lord Patten in the House of Commons yesterday. Picture: PA
Lord Patten in the House of Commons yesterday. Picture: PA
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BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten has told MPs that changes in the way the corporation is governed are not needed.

The former cabinet minister said it was a “delusion” to think changing the way the BBC was governed would solve all its problems.

Recent scandals including revelations about Jimmy Savile’s sex crimes and large pay-offs for senior staff have seen the BBC make the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Lord Patten said he hoped the focus would soon shift to the programmes made by the BBC, adding: “If that happens, I suspect arguments about governance would seem less important in the next year or two.”

He told members of the Commons culture, media and sport committee that he was astonished by the amount of “attention” the media gives to the BBC.

BBC director-general Tony Hall also gave evidence at yesterday’s session which examined the fallout from the Savile scandal and executive pay.

An annual report and accounts published in July revealed the BBC has spent around £5 million investigating the Savile affair so far.

The director-general said staff were “of course depressed about what’s gone on in the last year” and said the BBC was opening a support line for employees to report bullying and harassment.

Asked about reports that a Panorama programme on how Comic Relief invests its funds had been shelved, Mr Hall said he “very much” hoped it will be shown.

The BBC is the broadcast partner of Comic Relief and broadcasts its Red Nose Day and Sport Relief content.

Mr Hall told MPs that the planned documentary, which reportedly examines some of the investments made by the charity and a substantial rise in staff costs over the years, is being looked at by the BBC’s director of news, James Harding.

Mr Hall said: “When you have a programme which is controversial, and right to be controversial, and making big claims, and right to be making big claims about things, you shouldn’t set a transmission date.

“You should absolutely ensure there’s proper time for proper processes to be gone through. That is exactly what’s happening on this programme.”

He added: “I very much hope this programme will be transmitted, but I don’t know yet what the substance of the allegations that are being made are, and are they right or wrong?”

The BBC paid out a six-figure sum and apologised to former Conservative Party treasurer Lord McAlpine after a Newsnight report last November wrongly implicated him in a child abuse scandal.

Speaking yesterday, a spokesman for Comic Relief said the charity kept costs under control, aimed to maximise the money given to good causes and kept within Charity Commission guidelines.

Mr Hall also told MPs the BBC was opening a support line for employees to report bullying.

He added that “a number of disciplinary hearings” had been carried out and that in “at least one case” a member of staff had left the BBC because of their behaviour.

He said: “This helpline is the latest example of what I want to do to make sure we have a workplace where people feel valued, people feel they are not been bullied or harassed, that they want to come into work.”