BBC Trust to look into corporation's talent spend

LONDON - The BBC Trust is to conduct a review into how the BBC pays for talent, to ensure licence-fee payers are given value for money.

The BBC has come in for criticism for the amount it pays its top entertainers, especially in the case of Jonathan Ross' recently agreed three-year deal, reported to be worth £18m.

It has also been reported that Graham Norton is currently in the first year of a £7m three-year deal, after the BBC doubled his salary to keep him.

Some commercial competitors have complained that the corporation's financial clout increases the cost of talent across the market.

The trust will release more details around the time of the publication of the BBC annual report on July 3.

A spokeswoman for the trust said: "Talent costs understandably raise questions for the public. So the trust must ensure it has a proper understanding of how the BBC operates in these markets to satisfy itself that the greatest value is being created for audiences.

"Later this year the trust plans to commission an external study about the BBC's major role in the talent market. Terms of reference have yet to be finalised, but these will be published, as will the report once completed."

In other news, the BBC has made a fresh pay offer to staff following a meeting with Bectu, the National Union of Journalists and Amicus yesterday.

The offer included a 4% rise in pay for 2007 and a further 2% increase in pay for 2008.

Staff in their first year and earning below £25,000 are being offered a minimum increase of £1,000. Additional improvements in London weighting were also offered, "recognising the particular financial challenges staff face living in the capital".

The BBC will also defer, for a further 12 months, any increases in pension contribution by its staff.

Stephen Kelly, director of BBC People, said: "I believe this two-year offer is fair and realistic.

"It offers staff and the BBC stability and certainty over the next two years in respect of pay at a time of considerable challenge and change for the corporation.

"It also recognises the need for the BBC to invest in its people whilst investing in services for audiences.

"We are pleased that the unions are to ballot with a positive recommendation."

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