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BBC pay-off row: Adams under fire for offering outgoing top brass “sweeteners”

Tom Newcombe , 10 Sep 2013

adams

Former BBC HR director Lucy Adams has told MPs she occasionally offered financial “sweeteners” to push senior executives “out of the door” during a tense session of the Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) investigation into excessive pay-offs.

Adams and other former BBC executives, including ex-director general Mark Thompson, were yesterday grilled by a cross-party group of MPs, led by Margaret Hodge.

The BBC has come under fire for paying more than £25 million to 150 outgoing executives between 2009 and 2012, which included £2 million more than they were entitled to.

Swift resolution

One of the members of PAC, Stephen Barclay, asked Adams if she had been giving instructions to HR staff that they should be lax about payments made to out-going staff because they should view it as sweeteners.

Adams said that she could not "honestly recall using the word sweetener".

Barclay then read an email sent by Adams, which he had received from a whistleblower, in which she used the term.

Adams replied: "HR professionals all over the world recognise that occasionally you have to pay above contractual entitlement… I may have used the term by means of an incentive to get to a swift resolution."

Barclay added: "It says something about the culture that public money is bandied around particularly at a more senior level and then the head of HR is saying to use licence fee payers' money as sweeteners."

Adams, who stepped down last week from her £320,000 a year job, told the committee the corporation was trying to "get people out of the door" with minimal disruption and no risk of legal action so it was "occasionally" necessary to pay more than was contractually required.

Responding to this, Hodge said: "This attitude that the top cadre of people at the BBC faced greater difficulty when they faced redundancy rather than a receptionist or someone lower down is offensive, just offensive."

Excessive redundancy packages

During three hours of questioning yesterday by MPs, Thompson and Lord Patten, accused each other of paying excessive redundancy packages funded by the licence fee.

Thompson said the move, which saw former director general of the BBC Mark Byford leave the BBC with a payout of £949,000, represented "value for money".

He said the pay-off was part of a move to axe senior executives which would give the BBC "£19m of savings for every year into the future" and he believed he "had the full support of the BBC Trust" to order it.

Incompetence

At the end of the three-hour hearing the committee's chairman, Margaret Hodge, told the BBC: "At best what we've seen is incompetence, lack of central control, a failure to communicate for a broadcaster whose job is communicating.

"At worst we may have seen people covering their backs by being less than open. That is not good."

She added that the meeting was an "unedifying occasion, which can only damage the standing and the reputation of the BBC".

The BBC has now introduced a £150,000 cap on severance payments.

BBC's top severance payments:

Mark Byford, deputy director general, 31 years of service - £949,000

Jana Bennett, executive director, 33 years - £687,333

Caroline Thomson, chief operating officer, 17 years - £680,400

George Entwistle, director general, 23 years - £470,300

Roly Keating, departmental director, 29 years - £376,000 (money returned minus tax)

8 comments on this article

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Reputation

Tim Parry 10 Sep 2013

What an advert for the HR profession What happened to integrity openness fairness in the workplace Little wonder that the HR profession is held in such low esteem with champions such as this I would not trust this bunch to run a chip shop let alone an iconic British cultural institution CIPD are you listening?

Scale vs expediency

Peter Hinkson 10 Sep 2013

If it is not disingenuous it is naive of commentators and perhaps even the PAC to fail to take into account that separations of this nature involve some degree of compensatory incentive to encourage the departing individual(s) to accept being dismissed. If the separation is not on the grounds of deliberate negligence or gross misconduct, and not part of a redundancy consultation, why would the person accept being terminated? The scale of the incentive might be an issue but the principle is about finding an equitable resolution to not having another reason for saying we don't want you to do this anymore. Feigned indignation on the part of people commercially aware enough to know that the practice is part of the negotiation about changing contractual commitments serves only to inflame emotional reactions. If the policy needs changing, agree to change it, but don't look for scapegoats among those who simply applied it. Happily the policy has been changed and the parameters set at a more realistic level.

Scale vs expediency

Peter Hinkson 10 Sep 2013

If it is not disingenuous it is naive of commentators and perhaps even the PAC to fail to take into account that separations of this nature involve some degree of compensatory incentive to encourage the departing individual(s) to accept being dismissed. If the separation is not on the grounds of deliberate negligence or gross misconduct, and not part of a redundancy consultation, why would the person accept being terminated? The scale of the incentive might be an issue but the principle is about finding an equitable resolution to not having another reason for saying we don't want you to do this anymore. Feigned indignation on the part of people commercially aware enough to know that the practice is part of the negotiation about changing contractual commitments serves only to inflame emotional reactions. If the policy needs changing, agree to change it, but don't look for scapegoats among those who simply applied it. Happily the policy has been changed and the parameters set at a more realistic level.

Poor Lucy!

William Roberts 10 Sep 2013

Love the level of indignation from politians. What hypocrites! I hope also that the HR profession won't be jumping on this bandwagon. How many of HR staff with the ability to do so in similar positions haven't slipped an extra something(doesn't always have to be hard cash)into a 'compensation' deal to shorten a difficult leaving process or mitigate the likelihood of costly legal action. That's life in the real world.

Unusual in private sector?

Adam N 10 Sep 2013

I'm somewhat puzzled by the tone of this debate from Parliament. I understood the Conservatives to the be the party of business, in which case some of their business contacts could explain that offering more than contractual redudancy to an executive to facilitate a swift departure is very normal. This allows the organisation to move on with implementing the new structure with new people, rather than keeping a disenchanted old-guard hanging around for months affecting remaining employees or sitting at home on garden leave with contuining benefits and pension contributions. Bear in mind these 'sweeteners', so disparaged in this debate, are also typically conditional with a compromise agreement being signed which closes off threats of future litigation or allegations of unfairness in the process. Again this helps the organisation move on confidently and not worry about potential hefty legal bills. Just because this involves incomprehensible numbers that the person on the street (and I) could ever hope to receive, doesn't really explain why the BBC is being held to a different standard to the private sector when it is so frequently called on to emulate it by politicians.

BBC HR

Jonathan Smith 11 Sep 2013

This is a matter of integrity and those that fail should resign straightaway and try to rebuild their careers elsewhere. The BBC is a public body and funds should not be used to reward failure, it sends the wrong message out..

Competence of HR managers?

bj 11 Sep 2013

What everyone seems to be overlooking is the question of whether the HR people were doing their job! If one has to 'bribe' an employee to leave because, presumably he/she is no longer good at their job, then what sort of a contract did they have? Obviously one that gave the employee all of the power with the employer having none. Who is employing whom? A survey carried out by this magazine, only a few years ago, showed the highest paid HR director in the UK being employed by the BBC and amongst the highest paid 30, some 12 or 13 worked for the BEEB. With contracts as flaky as these, weren't the millions paid to all these HR people a terrible waste of licence payers money? They obviously were as bad at their jobs as the people they bribed to go - is there a message there?

Oh Dear

donald mccdonald 04 Oct 2013

Lucy Adams whole performance over this affair can only be described as an absolute shambles- how on earth did she ever get to be BBC HR Director ??

In this issue: September 2014
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Model Leaders – What kind of leaders do we need now? Find out in this special issue

Breaking the Silence – Lucy Adams and the BBC

Take it to the bank – HR in charge as TSB branches off

Save us all – Do collective pension schemes work?

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