The BBC: Auntie or Floozy?

Type: Think Pieces Written by Dr Madsen Pirie | Friday 13 November 2009

The bloated expense claims by BBC personnel provides further evidence that the broadcaster cannot be trusted to handle taxpayers' cash, argues Madsen Pirie.

Nobody calls the BBC "Auntie" any more. "Auntie" was an affectionate name for someone who might have been a trifle prim and stuffy at times, but who was basically reliable and behaved herself with decorum. "Auntie" was not the type of person who stayed in Las Vegas hotels, clocked up taxi rides at £200 a time, or who went to town on expensive lunches and dinners.

The revelations concerning the expenses charged by top BBC executives are but the latest in a series of blunders and scandals that seem to beset the corporation. Its image was badly dented by disclosures that it encouraged quiz show callers to make costly calls even after the prizes had already been awarded. Nor was it helped by its handling of the prank calls by Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, by disclosures that it had made a documentary seem more significant by altering its chronology, or by misrepresenting an apparent row involving Queen Elizabeth.

The bloated expense claims will be taken by the BBC's critics as further evidence that it cannot be trusted to handle the cash it receives from taxpayers with any sense of responsibility, and that ways of funding it alternative to the licence fee must be found. Certainly some of the claims raise eyebrows. The BBC's top executives average over £200,000 per year in pay, with many of them earning more than the Prime Minister, yet some of them still find time to claim 70p parking meter charges. And some of their expense claims bear witness to a lifestyle that most of their licence-fee payers can only envy.

Most people struggle with public transport, making the best they can of buses and trains, yet two BBC personnel between them clocked up over £10,000 on taxi bills over a three month period. The BBC defends this, saying that taxis are "more convenient and cost-effective" than public transport. Most people would agree with this, though unable themselves to spend public money on satisfying that convenience.

The claims may not be as exotic as some claimed by MPs, but the same principle is at stake. The public does not like to see those funded by taxpayers living it up while ordinary people have to struggle to get by. It is seen as a bad indicator when a business organization allows bloated expense claims by its personnel, and the same is true of the BBC. Coming after revelations over the huge sums they pay their celebrities, the public is beginning to think that their money is being passed around in buckets. Greater accountability and alternative methods of funding have just moved higher up the agenda.

Published on Telegraph.co.uk here.