The BBC has claimed it has no idea what many of its top stars are paid, a situation that MPs have described as “extraordinary”.
A large proportion of BBC shows are made by independent production companies, which do not have to reveal salaries. And under changes introduced last year, presenters and actors working for the corporation’s commercial arm, BBC Studios, can also keep pay details secret.
BBC Studios stars include Strictly Come Dancing’s Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman, Alex Jones and Matt Baker of The One Show, along with the casts of EastEnders, Casualty and Doctor Who.
In a written submission to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, published on Wednesday, the BBC said: “The Government agreed that BBC Studios should be treated on a level playing field with independent production companies. In order for the BBC to compete in an increasingly global market for talent we continue to believe this is essential.
“The BBC does not have information about payments made to talent by independent production companies. When we commission a programme from an independent production company, we negotiate a price for the programme – individual contractual arrangements with talent are a matter for them.”
The claim drew a withering response from the select committee, which said: “The BBC, as a publicly funded body, has a responsibility to lead on issues of pay and transparency. The BBC chooses to call its independent production arm ‘BBC Studios’ because of the strength of the BBC’s reputation, and we find the suggestion extraordinary – from the perspective of licence fee payers – that the BBC does not have information from BBC Studios as to the level of remuneration it pays to talent.
“We recommend that the corporation re-think this decision ahead of its forthcoming Annual Report.”
The BBC is now under pressure from Government to publish their pay.
A DCMS spokesman said: “BBC Studios is a wholly commercial company not funded by the licence fee and needs to be able to compete on a level playing field to succeed. However, we expect BBC Studios to lead industry best practice on pay transparency and would encourage the BBC to consider if there is more it can do on this front.”
The corporation made the disclosure to the select committee, which demanded written answers about BBC pay after finding responses before a Westminster hearing last year to be unsatisfactory.
Fiona Bruce’s salary for Fake or Fortune? and Antiques Roadshow is secret because those shows are made by BBC Studios, although her Question Time fee will be disclosed later this year as that contract is directly with the BBC.
The BBC said that it “of course has this data for BBC Studios”, available to a handful of executives, but will not publish it.
The select committee also criticised the BBC for failing to acknowledge that it has a pay discrimination problem.
“Our evidence suggests women with the BBC are working in comparable jobs to men but earning far less. This is unacceptable: the BBC is failing to live up to its duty to advance equality of opportunity,” it said.