The BBC has moved to appoint more women to highly paid jobs as it launched a defence of its star salaries. New figures, to be released this week, are likely to reveal a big gender pay gap among on-air presenters.
More than 60% of new appointments to jobs paying more than £150,000 a year are understood to have been women since 2013, with political editor Laura Kuenssberg and Today presenter Mishal Husain thought to be among them.
However, these new appointments represent a small fraction of the total of more than 100 on-air presenters who earned more than £150,000 last year. Men overwhelmingly dominate the highest paid, particularly those earning more than £500,000, understood to include Chris Evans and Gary Lineker.
In an interview with the Guardian, the BBC’s director of radio and education, James Purnell, said the corporation was dealing with an increasingly competitive market for talent from companies such as Netflix, Amazon and even Audible. “You can’t really expect a world-class BBC without world-class talent,” he said. “Yes, we absolutely have been controlling costs of talent. But there’s got to be a balance to strike.”
The BBC said it had cut the pay of those earning over £500,000 by 40% over the past five years and that the total bill for those earning £150,000 had fallen 10% year on year, and 25% in the last five years. “That’s at a time when there’s a boom out there, not just Netflix but Sky, Hollywood,” said Purnell. “The whole pressure out there is for talent costs to be going up, but we’ve been reducing them.”
All presenters earning £150,000 a year from the licence fee – which includes all those in news and current affairs, as well as TV presenters on programmes produced by the BBC such as Mastermind and Antiques Roadshow – will be named for the first time in the BBC’s annual review this week.
The changes were demanded by the terms of the new 11-year royal charter negotiated by Purnell and senior BBC managers last year. The BBC was bitterly opposed to a clause it dubbed a “poachers’ charter”, but a last-minute attempt to increase the disclosure limit to £450,000 was rejected by Theresa May’s government last year.
Purnell admitted that no member of BBC staff had left the corporation because of the change. Rivals like Sky and Channel 4 do not have to reveal what their on-air talent is paid.
“We will manage it as best as we can,” said Purnell. “We are far more transparent than the market. It would be great if Channel 4 and Sky were declaring their costs at the same time. We do typically pay less than the market, but we pay enough to get great content for people.
“We are not the civil service. If you start treating the BBC as though it were the civil service, it wouldn’t be the BBC any more.”
Presenter Andrew Marr said in a recent interview: “It’s uncomfortable for all of us. I’m well paid but I’m much less overpaid, perhaps, than people working for rival organisations who won’t go through this process.”
Anyone paid as part of a deal with independent producers will not have their salaries revealed. But hit shows produced by BBC Studios including Mastermind, presented by John Humphrys, and Antiques Roadshow, presented by Fiona Bruce, will be subject to the changes just for this year.
In the first year of an 11-year charter, the BBC is starting to talk about growth and expansion in radio and speech content, despite the constraints of a licence settlement that will see it footing the bill for the cost of free licence fees for the over-75s, an estimated £800m in the first five years.
Almost 10 million have signed up for the BBC’s app and iPlayer after registration became mandatory. The BBC has also commissioned a host of new podcasts with one Of Our Time looking to offer a take on the long-running Melvyn Bragg radio programme for a younger generation. It will features discussions about pop, theatre, design and more.
“A world dominated by big media companies brings into sharp relief that we’re not here to serve the market or the state, but the people,” said Purnell.
By April next year, all companies with more than 250 employees will have to publish their gender pay gap under a new legal requirement designed to stamp out workplace discrimination.
The latest BBC annual report records that 109 of its TV and radio presenters earned above £150,000. It is thought that about 30 of those on the higher salaries work in news and current affairs.