Everyone is to blame but me, insists Patten: BBC chairman faces calls to resign after blasting MPs, the Press and even his own lawyers over Entwistle's 450,000 payout
Entwistle was paid to leave the BBC in November after 54 days in the jobHe was also handed private healthcare for a year, legal fees and a PR budget as part of the dealBBC Trust chair Lord Patten says they are looking into getting some of the Entwistle money back after damning Pollard review
The peer also admits he chose the wrong man when he employed him as Director-GeneralMPs looking at the pay-off said it was an 'unacceptable use of public money'
Labour's Margaret Hodge goes to war with BBC over pay and gold-plated benefits of its senior staff
07:54 GMT, 21 December 2012
BBC chairman Lord Patten faced renewed calls to resign yesterday after he accused a parliamentary committee of ‘shabby’ treatment when it criticised ex-director-general George Entwistle’s bumper payoff.
The Tory peer clashed with Labour MP Margaret Hodge, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, over a report which attacked the ‘cavalier’ use of public money to give Mr Entwistle a ‘reward for failure’ after a mere 54 days in the job.
Lord Patten accused MPs of ‘taking no notice’ of 12 pages of legal advice the BBC Trust had supplied – which he said showed it would have faced a bigger payout had they not agreed the deal.
Defence: BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten has maintained that the package was a good deal for taxpayers
In a scattergun approach, he attacked MPs, the NHS and the Press, and said his hands were tied by the corporation’s lawyers.
He suggested some newspapers, naming the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, were overly critical of the payout although he seemed finally to accept that Mr Entwistle was the ‘wrong man’.
On Mr Entwistle’s appointment to the job of Director General, he added: ‘With the benefit of hindsight, we chose the wrong one. But we chose him from a very distinguished field.
'It was the unanimous choice of the whole of the BBC Trust.’
He defended the BBC’s approach to the Jimmy Savile scandal – saying it had acted more swiftly than the National Health Service in response to the revelations about the TV presenter’s sordid past.
The NHS, which has received allegations from former patients at three trusts, has still to start formal inquiries into what went wrong.
Miss Hodge said the BBC chairman should accept there might be ‘different views’ about his decision to rush through a generous deal with Mr Entwistle, adding: ‘He may not be right.’
She pointed out that there had been a
culture of generous settlements to former executives, including former
chief operating officer Caroline Thomson who received 670,000 earlier
this year after she was passed over for the director general’s job.
‘They just don’t get it,’ she said.
Scandal: George Entwistle (left) was paid 450,000 to leave the BBC after 54 days in the job – which Public Accounts Committee chairman Margaret Hodge (right) says was an unacceptable (amount)
Senior Labour backbencher Barry
Sheerman said he was shocked by Lord Patten’s comments, saying the
remarks ‘merits his resignation’.
Last month Mr Entwistle was given a
full year’s salary – 450,000 – double what he was entitled, to ensure a
speedy resignation amid the crisis caused by Newsnight’s dropped Savile
investigation and the botched report which wrongfully linked Lord
McAlpine to the abuse of children.
His deal also provided a year’s
private healthcare, fees for lawyers and even 10,000 to pay for Press
The PAC said the deal was ‘out of line both with public
expectations and what is considered acceptable elsewhere in the public
sector’. MPs also criticised ‘excessive’ severance payments to ten other
senior managers, including Miss Thomson.
On Radio 4’s Today programme, the BBC
chairman said: ‘You are not supposed to criticise the Public Accounts
Committee … in politics it is sort of the equivalent of swearing in
LORD PATTEN ON…
The Public Accounts Committee – ‘I do think the treatment we have had from them is a bit shabby.’
NHS over Savile scandal – ‘It has to be said that the BBC has moved to tackle all this more rapidly than some of the other institutions in the country – hospitals and so on….’
Press speculation that Savile report was pulled to protect tribute programmes – ‘I was quite surprised by the fact that there was newspaper after newspaper making that allegation.’
Caroline Thomson’s 670,000 payoff – ‘She negotiated her departure with the executive. It is not an issue which the trust has the responsibility of dealing with.’
Agreeing Entwistle payoff – ‘The legal advice we had was that if we fought it we would fetch up with a bigger bill.’
‘But I do think the treatment we have
had from them is a bit shabby. I do not think they have been fair
because they did not look at our legal arguments at all.’
In a question to Commons Leader
Andrew Lansley, Mr Sheerman said Lord Patten’s accusation of ‘shabby’
treatment ‘merits his resignation’.
Mr Lansley said that while the
report was a matter for the BBC Trust, when the PAC issues
recommendations, ‘they must be responded to and taken very seriously’.
Lord Patten said legal advice pointed
out if the BBC Trust had not made the settlement to Mr Entwistle ‘there
and then’ it would have probably ended up having to pay out for
constructive and unfair dismissal claims.
He said he knew and liked Miss
Hodge, ‘but I don’t think this is a fair way of treating us’.
Miss Hodge told the Daily Mail
yesterday that her committee ‘did give them a fair hearing’ and said the
BBC Trust ‘called it wrong’ by not letting the National Audit Office
look at the deal.
‘I think they don’t understand that
the public really do get irate when they see their licence fee being
used on such big handouts which are rewards for failure.’
The MP said she did still not
understand the whole package of Mr Entwistle’s deal and did not know if
his pension was based on what he was earning for the 54 days as BBC
She said the committee was ‘gobsmacked’ and ‘astounded’ when it
was revealed what was in his exit package.
Lord Patten said the BBC has taken
legal advice on whether it can recoup some of the 450,000 payoff given
to Mr Entwistle, but was not hopeful.
Decision: Lord Patten and the BBC Trust chose George Entwistle for the Corporation's top job – but it was a terrible mistake he admitted