A YORKSHIRE MP has challenged the BBC to be transparent and publicly explain the costly and lengthy absence of star regional presenter Christa Ackroyd.
Ms Ackroyd is understood to have been paid in excess of £30,000 of licence feepayers’ money over the last ten weeks despite not appearing on the BBC’s flagship news programme Look North.
Shipley MP Philip Davies, a member of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport select committee, said the public had a right to know why the presenter was not doing the job she is highly paid to do. He said he will be writing to the BBC to press for an explanation.
A BBC insider joined the calls for greater transparency and said staff had questioned why the corporation had not explained the absence to viewers and why no news story had been run on an issue widely reported elsewhere.
The BBC has steadfastly refused to offer any clarity over Ms Ackroyd’s ongoing absence but continues to state she still works for the BBC.
It is unclear what work Ms Ackroyd is doing for the BBC as it is understood she has not been at the studios in Leeds for 10 weeks bar one brief occasion to hand a letter in.
Ms Ackroyd, who is paid in excess of £150,000 a year on a freelance basis, has similarly offered no explanation.
Last night she told the Yorkshire Post: “I’m not in a position at the moment to make any comment.”
Mr Davies said: “It’s our money the BBC are spraying around. It would be helpful if we knew exactly what the situation was and what was going on as soon as possible.
“There needs to be more transparency so we can assess whether we are getting value for money. I don’t know the rights and wrongs but the situation is clearly unsatisfactory from any perspective.”
The BBC insider said staff had been left baffled by Ms Ackroyd’s sudden disappearance and lack of any explanation from senior management.
“Staff have not only been asking for an explanation from them but why are we not explaining Christa’s absence to viewers. It’s become like the elephant in the room – ‘Where’s Christa?’
“It’s also been asked why we’re not covering this as a news story because it has made the news but not on the BBC itself.
“The BBC has a duty to explain, as a publicly-funded body that we all pay for, why a presenter with this huge salary is not on the air.”
The insider said the BBC had been keeping a close eye on viewing figures compared to Yorkshire Television’s rival regional news programme Calendar to gauge what effect Ms Ackroyd’s absence was having, with results so far inconclusive.
Ms Ackroyd has continued to maintain a presence on social media site Twitter but has seemingly not responded when asked why she has not been presenting Look North.
She has recently tweeted complaints about a downturn in the weather, Bradford City’s success in the first round of the play-offs and celebrating her 56th birthday. In April she twice tweeted about the bed and breakfast she runs with her husband in Brontë country, near Haworth.
The BBC has previously stated Ms Ackroyd was off air for “editorial reasons” but declined to explain what that actually meant.
A spokeswoman said: “Christa is still working for the BBC but is currently off air.
“The BBC does not discuss an individual’s contractual arrangements or matters relating to internal staffing. This includes salary/fees, as previously advised, though we can confirm that talent pay has reduced by £18.5m over the past two years.”
Speculation over Ms Ackroyd’s absence has included suggestions of a disagreement over her freelance status when she essentially has full-time employment with the BBC.
Last November the BBC announced it was to review the freelance contracts of more than 800 on-air staff being paid through their own companies after questions were raised about the implications for the payment of tax.
Last month, the TaxPayers’ Alliance said it was “bizarre” Ms Ackroyd was employed on a freelance basis when she was a permanent face on Look North.
The campaign group also called on the corporation to be transparent about her absence and account for its use of licence feepayers’ money.
Ms Ackroyd has presented Look North for more than a decade after moving from Calendar, in 2001.