The requirement for transparency in the spending of public money has never been so evident, despite the fact that such activity has undoubtedly been carried out over centuries by thousands of public figures of all political persuasion. However, there is public money being spent on our behalf in other areas of life. the BBC came under pressure to divulge the costs that it incurs on what it calls ‘the talent’: freelance presenters and broadcasters. In one particular interview an experienced BBC presenter, the talent, would not reveal his fees because he ‘didn’t want to break ranks’ as a freelance broadcaster. Ironically, it is a committee of MP’s that have said that they want full statutory access to the costs of the BBC. On the other side of the fence the BBC is citing data protection as a reason for not so doing.
A freelance broadcaster is someone who is hired by the BBC or any other commercial broadcaster to do a specific job, much in the same way as hiring a person to paint your house. They are self employed and therefore responsible for paying their own tax and national insurance and everything associated with being self-employed, or freelance. This creates a problem. There is no question that the revenue from the licence fee is public money yet the BBC chooses to spend some of that cash on self employed people who don’t necessarily want their private income revealed to all and sundry. In addition many of those employed on a freelance basis are continually frustrated at the disparity in programme fees paid for doing exactly the same job. I’m sure that if this were to happen in any other publicly funded sector (say the NHS) questions would be asked. Another thing that has confused me is why BBC local radio stations continue to source ‘names’ to present any programme. By name I mean someone who is a celebrity or has been a household personality, either from TV or radio. These undoubtedly talented people are certainly glad of the work, work that invariably comes at a relatively high price. Surely it would be better for local radio to source their talent from the local community, people who live in that community, which would serve two purposes. Firstly costs would be kept to a minimum which in turn would appease the licence payer and, secondly, it would truly prove the BBC ethos of local radio for local people. Personally I would welcome the full disclosure of all costs by the BBC purely and simply because of the vast costs involved and to ease the mind of the listener and viewer. Incidentally, forget about the cost of repairing a moat or getting a duck island for the middle of your pond. A BBC licence today costs £49 for a black and white TV with radio and a massive £145.50 annual fee for a colour TV with radio. These figures are huge, and you and I are paying all of it – I believe we deserve to know precisely what we’re paying for.
UPDATE NOVEMBER 2012: ‘Private Services Companies’ used by some of the highest paid ‘frelance’ staff forces a U-turn by the BBC on how it pays its ‘talent’. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-20236759