BBC won’t be able to claw back payout, says Patten

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The BBC is unlikely to be able to recoup some of the £450,000 payoff given to director-general George Entwistle, Lord Patten said as MPs criticised the corporation’s “cavalier” attitude to licence fee money.

The chairman of the BBC Trust said he doubted a bid to get some of the money back would be successful but the trust had taken legal advice on the issue.

Mr Entwistle resigned after just 54 days in the job as a result of his handling of the Jimmy Savile crisis and was paid the money – double what he was entitled to – in order to speed up his departure.

A report by the Public Accounts Committee was scathing, saying it was “out of line both with public expectations and what is considered acceptable elsewhere in the public sector”, and that further benefits paid to him were “an unacceptable use of public money”.

MPs also criticised “excessive” severance payments to 10 other senior managers, including former chief operating officer Caroline Thomson who received £670,000 when she left this year.

Lord Patten told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was “shabby” of MPs to criticise the BBC’s approach to Mr Entwistle’s departure, because their report did not take into account the legal position.

He added: “We’ve taken legal advice about whether we could actually take any money back. In order for us to do so we have to be able to argue that, on the basis of what Pollard says, it would have been justified to make a summary dismissal of the former director-general and I rather doubt whether we will get the legal go ahead for that.”

He said with “hindsight” the trust had chosen the wrong candidate for the top job, but said if the BBC had refused Mr Entwistle’s payoff claim it would have ended up in “an appalling mess” in the courts and cost more.

The committee concluded: “By agreeing to this payment, the BBC Trust may have secured the director-general’s quick departure but it did not act in the wider public interest. Public servants should not be rewarded for failure.”

Senior Labour backbencher Barry Sheerman called for Mr Patten’s resignation over his claim the committee had been “shabby” in its approach.

In a question to Commons Leader Andrew Lansley, Mr Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield, said: “There is something very serious when, with the BBC having gone through the times that it has and the legitimate concerns that our constituents have, the chairman should say such things. My view is that it merits his resignation.”