BBC chief rehired after £365,000 payoff

This Sunday Times article is the result of an FOI request I made to the BBC, which revealed two ‘mega’ redundancy pay-outs.

One was made to the head of religion Michael Wakelin who was rehired only months later, the other went to market executive Sue Lynas, who was months from retirement. Both payments had been portrayed as cost-cutting measures.

Full text is on the Sunday Times website here, or read on.

BBC chief rehired after payoff

Having received up to £364,000 in redundancy pay, the former head of religion is back to advise the director-general on religious affairs

Michael Wakelin, 49, was given his payoff in March 2009 but since January this year has been working for one day a week on a report commissioned by Mark Thompson on the BBC’s portrayal of religion.

He is also working as executive producer of the daily Radio 2 religious slot, Pause for Thought.

Wakelin, a Methodist lay preacher, is among 204 BBC managers who have received redundancy payments of more than £100,000 in the past three years, according to data obtained by The Sunday Times under freedom of information laws. The cost to the licence fee-payer amounted to more than £29m — the equivalent of almost 200,000 annual licence fees — from April 2007 to March this year.

One executive received a £500,100 payoff, another was given £414,120, and seven others got £250,000 or more.

Wakelin’s redundancy from the post of head of religion and ethics was presented at the time as being part of a cost- cutting restructuring.

But he was replaced by two people, both understood to be on six-figure salaries — Aaqil Ahmed, the BBC’s first Muslim head of religious programming, and Christine Morgan, the head of religion for radio.

The disclosure of the lavish redundancy packages will raise fears that job cuts at the BBC will lead to a new wave of six-figure payments.

The corporation said it was in the middle of implementing a £2 billion efficiency drive. Last year, it unveiled plans to axe 114 out of 634 senior managers and freeze pay for its executive board members for another three years.

It said it had so far reduced its overall headcount by 9% — more than 3,500 staff — in the past four years, spending more than £162m on redundancy payments since 2006. When asked this weekend what his redundancy payment was, Wakelin refused to reveal the amount.

He said: “I’m really, really, really not going to talk about this with you. I’m not making any comment at all.”

Wakelin, who lives in Cheshire, in a house worth about £390,000, said his payment was a “personal” matter. The freedom of information documents state that managers on the same pay grade as Wakelin made redundant that financial year received up to £364,000.

Sue Lynas, who earned £128,375 as the BBC’s audio and music’s director of marketing communication and audiences, was given a redundancy payment of more than £250,000 at the end of 2009 — just eight months before she was due to retire. Lynas referred requests for comment to the BBC — even though she is no longer an employee.

Several of the laid-off staff were approaching retirement and have since returned to work for the broadcaster under lucrative freelance deals.

The BBC said that almost one in 10 of the managers who received redundancy payoffs of more than £100,000 — 22 individuals — were due to retire within three years.

BBC staff are entitled to up to two years’ pay if they lose their job — double the private sector average of just one year. BBC redundancy payments comprise the equivalent of one month’s salary for each completed year of service.

John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, said the redundancy payments were another example of the BBC’s spiralling spending, which he said needed greater scrutiny.

He said: “Any outside observer would find it extraordinary that the BBC is willing to spend such huge amounts of licence fee payers’ money on redundancy payments.

“This shows a casualness with licence fee-payers’ money, which I’m afraid is all too typical of the BBC and is further evidence as to the necessity of much stricter control.”

Whittingdale said: “We are told continuously by the BBC that they are going to have to cut programme budgets, that they are going to have to impose pay restrictions and yet it still appears that huge amounts are being wasted.”

A BBC spokesman said: “All businesses have from time to time to make redundancies.”

On the case of Wakelin, who appears to have been replaced with two people, the spokesman added: “While this involves redundancy costs in the short-term to honour contracts and employment law, over the long-term they represent cost savings, as posts close permanently.”

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