Leave Mark Thompson alone…

June 26, 2009

IMHO the expenses row has now gone too far.

So following the MP’s expenses scandal, and in the spirit of openness and transparency, Mark Thompson the BBC director general has published the expenses of the most senior 100 executives at the BBC including himself.

News story here.

Does he get praise for this? Like hell he does. I was unhappy to see the normally balanced and sensible Kirsty Wark on Newsnight last night implying that claiming for air fares to fly his family home from their disrupted holiday was unreasonable… and there was a vox pop on the BBC 10 o’clock news with people saying that this claim was “disgusting”.

No it’s not.

Sure there are some cheeky and unreasonable claims among those published, but let’s get the facts about Mark Thompson’s flights home straight:

Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand caused substantial constroversy by leaving lewd messages on the answerphone of Andrew Sachs, a distinguished elderly actor. This was pre-recorded and then subsequently broadcast on Radio 2. (For those of you outside the UK, or those who were living on Mars last October, the story is here.).

The controversy hit the headlines in the UK, and Mark Thompson, who was on holiday with his family at the time, was required to fly home to sort out the mess. As editor-in-chief of the BBC this is one of his responsibilities and as I recall he was under severe media pressure to cut short his holiday and come back to take charge.

So he and his family were on a driving holiday in Europe (Sicily I believe). He had to fly home and his family, entirely reasonably in my view, decide their holiday is irretrievably disrupted and fly home with him. Why should he have to pay for that personally?

In my view any expense that’s necessarily incurred as a direct result of your employment which you wouldn’t otherwise have incurred if you weren’t doing the job is a reasonable business expense. I have also had a holiday disrupted for business reasons – the company was in the middle of being acquired and my holiday had to be cancelled because of meetings with the potential acquirer in the USA. Quite reasonably my employer reimbursed the cancellation fees and the incidental costs incurred by both myself and my wife.

So not only is it, in my view, an entirely reasonable claim, but the amount, some £2,000, is not unreasonable either – we all know how expensive last minute flights are, even on so called low-cost carriers. I don’t know how many kids Mark Thompson has, but £2,236.90 (according to BBC News website) to fly four or five people home from Sicily is not unreasonable at all.

What does it really cost to fly short notice one way from Sicily?

Well I’ve just been onto the BA website to find a flight from Catania (Sicily) to any London aiport later today and the cheapest price for one person one way is €1101!

So come on media, you may have a point about some of the claims, but this isn’t one. Stop treating Mark Thompson as if he’s getting the taxpayer to fund a duck house in his moat and focus on the real story.

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