BBC Trust starts review into talent costs

LONDON - The BBC Trust has given the go-ahead for an independent review into whether the corporation's most high-profile talent, such as Jonathan Ross and his reputed £18m deal, represent value for money.

Research consultancy Oliver and Ohlbaum Associates has begun work on the talent study, which will look into the reported cost of on-screen and on-air talent.

The review comes after the salaries of key BBC stars such as Chris Moyles and Jonathan Ross were leaked to the press last year by a temp, who was subsequently caught and sacked.

At the time, the reports claimed that Terry Wogan pocketed £800,000 a year for his Radio 2 breakfast show, while Radio 1 counterpart Chris Moyles earned £630,000. Ross was reportedly paid £540,000 a year for his three-hour Saturday show on Radio 2.

The BBC Trust has asked Oliver and Ohlbaum Associates to examine whether the salaries paid to top BBC talent are pricing commercial broadcasters out of the market.

The trust said: "The overall goal of the study is to ensure that the Trust has a proper understanding of how the BBC operates in the talent market so that it can satisfy itself that the greatest value is being created for audiences."

The report also aims to compare the remuneration and benefits offered to BBC presenters with those on offer in the commercial sector. It is expected to be published next spring.

When the salary leaks emerged, BBC director-general Mark Thompson promptly defended the amount his high-profile staff were paid.

He insisted commercial groups such as ITV and BSkyB were offering BBC personalities "far, far higher rates than they are currently getting".

Thompson's comments would appear to be evidenced by the latest series of high-profile BBC departures towards the commercial sector.

BBC Breakfast presenter Dermot Murnaghan was poached last month by Sky News to front a weekday morning show from the new year, and 'BBC Six O'Clock News' presenter Natasha Kaplinsky was headhunted by Five News to present its relaunched flagship evening news bulletins.

BBC Trust chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, reiterated the importance of value for money in a speech at yesterday's Voice of the Listener and Viewer autumn conference.

"Value for money and efficiency is something we take very seriously," he said.

"The Trust has set the BBC testing efficiency targets over the six-year period to ensure that management keep costs under tight control and release money for new investment that will benefit licence fee payers."

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