Editor’s blog: BBC expenses just another distraction

Yesterday’s ‘revelations’ about the expense claims of senior BBC management show what a total non-story the whole thing has become. Such is the righteous, Puritanical fervour that has been whipped-up over MPs with their fingers in the till that any vaguely taxpayer-supported organisation is now fair game for what amounts to little more than a prurient sift through a stranger’s underwear drawer.

The fact is these things are private. You could argue that they are commercially sensitive. Sky isn’t going to tell you if they send Beefy Botham a case of brown ale as a thankyou if he puts in an especially tight performance commentating on the 20/20 cricket final at Lords. We may pay the licence fee, but that doesn’t automatically make it our business to get involved in the ins and outs of the Director General and the unhappiness his family must have felt when he had to bring them home from a holiday early because Russell Brand had been effing and blinding on the radio again. Of course it’s right he should be reimbursed for this.

We may pay the 120bn annual bill for the NHS but it doesn’t give us the right to question every last detail of the working practices of a neurosurgeon performing a trepanning operation – telling him or her which cost-effective drill bit to use. The NHS has its own mechanisms to do this and we take them on trust.

The reasons why it’s entirely reasonable that Mark Thompson should send Bruce Forsyth a 99.99 bottle of Krug Grand Cuvee on the occasion of the old boy’s 80th birthday are many. Firstly, this is show business and Brucie is a luvvie (‘alright, my luvvie?’) – and that’s the way showbusiness works. Performers are desperately insecure people who needs their egos constantly massaging. Look at how Spinal Tap reacted to the green room sandwiches being the wrong shape. Secondly, the old boy has worked for the BBC since about 1837 and any organisation large or small makes such gestures. It’s the way the world turns, even during recession.

And there’s a third, more important point here. Maybe Mark Thompson is actually fond of Brucie and the work he does for the BBC. Maybe he’s genuinely grateful on behalf of Auntie that Bruce is still the old trouper doing his bit, hairpiece and all. It’s actually a human and civilised mode of management to send a token of appreciation to a contractor who’s done well on the corporation’s behalf. It’s civilised and there is nothing whatsoever to be ashamed of.

The central current problem for the BBC, under attack from those who wish it ill, is that it appears to be on the verge of losing its nerve entirely. If it continues to capitulate and don the hair-shirt whenever anyone seeks to question or have a pop, it’s finished. In those immortal words of our last Prime Minister, it is always at its best when at its boldest. At the moment, the corporation is being reduced to a nervous wreck.

Expenses are a ludicrous distraction. They’re no more important or interesting than office Health and Safety regs or annual interest-free bus pass loans. For the record, I shall be entertaining two MT contributors for lunch today. They have served us well for many years and although our monthly expense budget of 595 for all seven editorial staff is modest I shall be taking them for a small plate of something. Who knows – as it’s Friday, we may even have a 175ml glass of wine each. Possibly a rose – which sells at 3.60 per glass – if the sun is out and the fancy takes us. This is of little or no consequence to you, and I hope by regaling you with these tedious details I’m boring you stiff. We’ve all got far more important things to concern us.

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Editor’s blog: BBC expenses just another distraction
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    Yep. Have to agree on this one, all a distraction. All the expenses mentioned could have quite easily been justified in a private sector, commercial operation like mine. Certainly submitted with a reasonable expectance of repayment, even if they didnt all pass the test.

    And that is my measure. But putting in a claim for your weekly shop like the rest of the population IS stretching things absolutely too far…..

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    BBC. Mark Thompson. Hair shirt. Jesuit education. Nuff said!

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    I can confirm that the lunch was delightful but not by any means excessive. Back off sleazemongers – Gwyther is legit.