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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Row over public spending as top earners at the BBC revealed

As the BBC's highest paid names are revealed, debate around the use of public funds and whether there is a gender bias at the broadcaster rage

Chris Evans, left, standing with driving show Top Gear's The Stig, is revealed to be the highest paid member of the BBC (Yui Mok/PA/AP)
Chris Evans, left, standing with driving show Top Gear's The Stig, is revealed to be the highest paid member of the BBC (Yui Mok/PA/AP)

Former Top Gear presenter Chris Evans led a roster of talent show hosts, actors, news readers and ex-sports stars who were revealed as the top earners at the BBC on Wednesday as a row raged over the use of public funds at the corporation.

The BBC raises most of its revenues from a licence fee levied on every household with a television. Critics claim the corporation acts as a cosy club of well-connected insiders rewarding stalwarts with salaries far in excess of the income of listeners.

Mr Evans, a popular radio and TV personality who stabilised the Top Gear franchise after the departure of the entire presenting team led by Jeremy Clarkson, is paid £2.25 million. Former England international Gary Lineker, now the host of the football show, Match of the Day, is the next highest paid on £1.8 million.

In all there are 96 staff paid more than £150,000 a year in a total wage bill for top on-air talent of £27 million.

The BBC was forced to release the figures only after the government included the demand in legislation passed by parliament.

Its top executive Lord Hall defended the spending as justified by the market. The BBC not only competes against domestic news and entertainment rivals but international broadcasters as well as social media giants like Facebook.

"I completely understand that to lots and lots of people these are very large sums but we are a global broadcaster, in a very competitive market," Lord Hall told BBC radio.”And we have to be competitive but not foolishly.

"No-one would want us to be paying sums where it's not at a discount to the market. People expect us to have great broadcasters, great presenters, great stars but pay them less than they would get in the market.”

Publication of the figures opened up new rows. There were complaints that the revelations did not go far enough.

The chat show host Graham Norton earnings from his BBC contracts was reported to be almost £900,000. That figure does not include his receipts from the production company, So TV, that makes his Friday night chat show.

There was also complaints over male bias in the salaries, with two-thirds on the list revealed to be men. Claudia Winkleman, the top woman comes in at number eight, paid £850,000.

Damian Collins, the head of the Culture committee which oversee media matters, warned of disputes to come as lower-paid staff fight to match the earnings of colleagues. “This could be a really serious issue. If it becomes clear that people are doing the same job with the same level of experience but are being paid at very different levels, people will question why that can be the case,” he said.

John Simpson, the world affairs editor, was among many BBC staff that vented their fury at the exercise. “Why does the government actively seek to damage the BBC, one of the few things the world admires about the UK at present, with this pointlessness,” he asked.

Mr Simpson pointed to a survey last week that said the BBC far outranked rivals ITV, Channel 4 and Sky in viewer satisfaction ratings.

Mr Lineker said he “blamed his agent” for his earnings, adding that he had turned down larger sums from commercial broadcasters to stay at the BBC.

Lord Grade - a former director general of the BBC - called the government's insistence that talent pay be disclosed "distasteful and disturbing”.

"The net result of this is inflation," he said. "Talent salaries and wages will round upwards, they won't go down."