Entwistle pay-off cannot be reviewed by gov't watchdog
Despite clamour for inquiry into £450,000 package, BBC Trust would have to refer itself to Audit Office
GOVERNMENT auditors are powerless to to launch an immediate review of the controversial severance pay-off handed to former BBC Director-General George Entwistle, despite Culture Secretary Maria Miller telling Parliament that there should be an inquiry.
On top of a £870,000-plus pension pot, Entwistle was given a full year's salary of £450,000, twice the pay-off to which he was entitled under the terms of his contract. BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten has admitted he offered the higher sum in order to ensure the DG went quietly and quickly.
Under pressure from MPs and the Prime Minister, who said Entwistle's pay-off was "hard to justify", Miller told the House of Commons on Monday: "The National Audit Office is empowered to conduct a value-for-money review of any issue. If it decides it wants to review this decision, I expect that the BBC would co-operate fully."
However, the National Audit Office said yesterday that although it would like to review the pay-off immediately, it cannot do so under its limited powers of scrutiny at the BBC. As The Daily Telegraph reports, the public spending watchdog power's rights are curtailed under an agreement intended to protect the BBC from political interference.
As a result, the NAO can only begin a review after 31 December, by which time it fears it will be too late.
The only way out of the bureaucratic impasse is for the BBC Trust to refer itself to the NAO. Amyas Morse, the Auditor General, has written to Lord Patten asking to be allowed to review the pay-off immediately. The ball is now in Patten's court.
If Patten doesn't agree to the review, there will be pressure to redraw the NAO's boundaries. Richard Bacon, a Conservative member of the public accounts committee, told the Telegraph: "The government needs to change the agreement with the BBC so the National Audit Office can scrutinise the BBC in the same way as any other government department."
Bacon said of the £450,000 pay-off: "It shows that the BBC Trust really does not get it."
Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that BBC Trust vice-chairman Diane Coyle signed off the the Entwistle severance package over the phone with Lord Patten while watching Strictly Come Dancing. On Saturday evening she tweeted a photograph of a glass of white wine and a bowl of olives with the caption: "Getting ready to watch #SCD".
Coyle assured the public that she stopped watching the show while she and Patten discussed the half-a-million-pound deal.