Tomorrow's News Today
Simon Pitt |
Wednesday 23rd May
The BBC released their latest expense report today. It's like a dream come true for tabloid journalists. A sort of quarterly present, where they get to put up their feet and print numbers and angry faces in the newspaper for a day.
The highest taxi expenses through central bookings were claimed by creative director Alan Yentob for £1317.21; BBC One controller Danny Cohen for £735.10; director of business operations, Lucy Adams for £731.64; and director of Audio & Music, Tim Davie for £550.74.
As a licence-fee-paying citizen, I'm shocked by this. Nearly £1500 for a taxi! Where was he going? Alpha Centuri? Did he go on holiday and accidentally forget he had a taxi sitting at the airport on the meter or something? Did he ask the taxi driver to go round and round spaghetti junction until he found the pasta?
I don't know. And you know what, in the grand scheme, it doesn't really matter.
A while back The Guardian tried to figure out how old ex-FM&T ex-boss Erik "give us a hug" Huggers spent £600 on a taxi. Given that Yetob spent £1300, it seems that whatever Huggers did, Yentob, never one to be out done, did it twice.
Thanks to its strict policy on endorsements, alas, the corporation is unable to reveal the supplier or type of car used by Huggers, but a brief investigation by the Guardian hints at the level of ingenuity required to spend more than $1,000 in one day on a cab.
I'm not sure how well this bodes for Yentob, seeing as not only does Huggers no longer work for the BBC, but FM&T doesn't even exist anymore.
San Francisco Car Service, for instance, quotes an hourly rate within the Bay Area of $50, exclusive of fees. At Virgin Limo, an eight-hour hire in the San Francisco area of a chauffeured sedan "with full leather interior, dual climate controls, power points for laptops computers and cellular phones", inclusive of fuel surcharge, tolls and tip, would cost $626.40. Ten hours in a "Turtle top limo-van", however, with DVD player, conference player, and "luxurious reclining leather seats", would take his bill to $1,010.25.
Of course, the thing is, as Peter Preston says:
This BBC expenses saga, artificially refreshed every three months because the trust insists on publishing new claims from senior corporation people, is getting pretty silly
Well, of course it is. Big shock, senior people do stuff. And some of it costs money.
Of course, when the dailies come out tomorrow, the pages will be filled with ranting about Yentob's taxi bill.
But let's think about Yentob's taxi ride. Alan Yentob's salary is £168,300 a year meaning that his hourly rate works out to be about £100 an hour. Now, I don't know where his taxi was to or from, but it was probably a bloody long way away (either that, or they got stuck in one hell of a traffic jam). Maybe the other option was for him to stay the night, booking a hotel, claiming dinner and being away from the office another day. A day without Yentob would cost the BBC £800 (plus however much food he managed to eat). Suddenly the taxi figure doesn't seem so unreasonable.
And you know what: £1000 just isn't that much money. The BBC has a turnover of £4 billion. You can expect, for an organisation that size and scale that some money will be spent on acting in a way that is appropriate for senior management. I really don't expect Mark Thompson to have to hitchhike to BBC Scotland.
Picking on these numbers and being all shocked about them (as I was earlier) distorts the problem. I admire the BBC Trust for forcing the BBC to be so open and release its expenses every few months. It's an almost hideously awful thing to do, since it means we get "expense-gate", "taxi-gate" or "a-quick-lunch-at-little-chef-gate" every few months. I can't see any other company wanting to it, but being this open is a good thing,
You wouldn't think that from the way the press handle it though. Rather than giving the context to know whether these costs are significant, the audience are shown figures that seem unjustifiably big. But they're not significant. Not compared to contractor spend, or IT spend, or consultancy fees. In fact, fixating on "headline figures" like Yentob's taxi trip, misses that fact that BBC management expenses are down nearly 10% compared to the same period two years ago.
Now I know the world would be a better place if senior officials didn't claim taxis that are more than some people's monthly salary. But that's a completely separate philosophical debate, and one which isn't helped by sensationalist articles about the cost of taxis. In the broad scheme of things, these claims are not a big deal.
But despite all that, as soon as you see the article, you can predict what's going to be in the newspapers the next day. And you can also guess what won't be in the papers. No one will be reporting that Paul Dacre, Daily Mail editor, received a salary of £1.62 million in 2008. That's more than Mark Thompson, Caroline Thomson, Zarin Patel, Tim Davie and George Entwistle put together. If I had £1.62m floating around in my pocket, I know what I'd spend it on. And it doesn't rhyme with Daul Pacre.