The BBC’s reward director has been forced to apologise for his part in trying to hide the number of staff earning more than £100,000 by massaging salary figures.
Robert Johnston, who is paid £196,550 a year, asked staff responsible for releasing the salary data to “deliberately disguise” the number of managers earning more than the six-figure sum, according to e-mails seen by the Times.
The BBC had agreed that staff should be separated into salary bands, including a £70,000 to £99,999 band, and a £100,000 to £129,999 group.
Johnston and Phil Austin, the reward manager, are claimed to have reformatted the information to group staff paid between £80,000 and £110,000 together.
In an e-mail, Austin wrote: “We purposely changed the bands in attempt [sic] to make it less obvious how many of the employees were above £100k, there are quite a few that fall between £100k and £110k but if they sit in an £80k to £110k band it’s not so cler [sic] how many of them there are!”
When staff queried the decision, Johnston said: “We are sticking to the salary bands as per Phil’s note aren’t we – that’s what we told BDG [BBC’s Direction Group] and we are doing it to deliberately disguise the number in the over £100k band?”
In a statement released by the BBC last night, Johnston said: “With hindsight I realise this suggestion was wrong and I apologise if it called into question the BBC’s commitment to openness and transparency.”
Last year, the BBC disclosed the pay and expenses of its top 107 executives, of which there were 11 HR staff. Johnston was listed among the BBC HR team’s top earners.
John Whittingdale, the chairman of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, said Johnston’s actions were “absolutely outrageous”.
He added: “It’s no good the BBC trying to twist and turn about this. This is public money and they should be totally transparent.”
According to the BBC website, Johnston is “responsible for the policy and direction of all matters relating to compensation and benefits for all BBC employees. He provides information, advice and guidance that covers pay, bonuses, benefits and pensions”.
A BBC spokesman said: “This proposal was discussed at BDG but was immediately dismissed. The BBC will continue to publish salaries in the already established bands as ruled upon by the Information Commissioner’s Office.”