The amount of money people are paid in relation to the job they do has been quite a hot topic over the past year or so; the public sector pay issue is the one that won’t go away, and the series of strikes by junior doctors last year shone a spotlight on the subject that has intensified in its glaring luminance via the row over the Government’s refusal to budge on its public sector pay cap. Doctors, nurses, fire fighters, the police – all deemed to be engaged in occupations that we all benefit from and would struggle without. Recent terrorist atrocities and disasters have brought their front-line contribution into focus yet again, though we do live in a country in which envy and mistrust of the successful is easily translated into resentment of the money such figures earn.
The Daily Mail, one of many Fleet Street titles owned by billionaires registered as non-doms who avoid paying millions in tax on an annual basis as a consequence, has nevertheless added to its long-time anti-BBC agenda of late by excitedly speculating on the pay of its biggest stars. Former Culture Secretary John ‘Whiplash’ Whittingdale was one of the motivators behind a new contractual obligation when negotiating the BBC’s Royal Charter a couple of years ago, one that specified the corporation would have to reveal the wages of its highest earners. Any who earned over £150,000 would be ‘named and shamed’.
I noticed the story was the Mail’s front cover today and will probably fill the first three or four pages of the rag tomorrow. It makes the assumption people care about these things, and to be fair, I’m pretty sure many do; I can’t say I’m one of them, but I don’t read the Daily Mail either. In comparison to what, say, Premier League footballers earn on a weekly basis, even the annual salaries of the BBC’s highest-paid employees probably seem like loose change. But, lest we forget, the BBC is financed by those of us who pay our TV licences, so it counts as a special case.
Michael Grade, a man whose working life has more or less been spent entirely in television, points out that revealing these BBC salaries will inflate those salaries thereafter as commercial competitors will now know how much to tempt stars away with; not that this will concern the Daily Mail, naturally. ‘If the Government was concerned the BBC wasn’t giving value for money,’ said Grade, ‘then they should have cut the licence fee, and not intervened in people’s privacy and their own private affairs about what they’re paid.’
There is undoubtedly a curtain-twitching, nosy neighbour element to this story; the need to know what other people are paid can either be used as yardstick to measure the chasm between Us and Them or can provide an excuse to start a rant about nurses using food banks. Of course, nurses using food banks has little to do with how much Chris Evans is paid and a tad more to do with the Westminster villagers who insisted revealing the pay of the top earners when renegotiating the BBC Charter; but this fact won’t register when the nation’s curtain-twitchers are rooting around through Gary Lineker’s pay-cheques.
As I’m one of the few people I know who does actually pay for a TV licence, what concerns me isn’t really what the BBC pays its big guns out of the licence fee – and that’s all we’re getting via these revelations, by the way; additional payments from independent production companies don’t count. For me, it’s more a question of getting my money’s worth; when Tony Hall waffles on about ‘culture’ and simultaneously slashes the budget for BBC4 or Radio 4 whilst lashing out God-knows how much on endless variations of ‘Bake Off’ and the rest of the talent show circus, I don’t feel I’m receiving value. Content is what irks me, not payment; by trying to out-ITV ITV, the BBC is failing to do what it’s there for. It’s supposed to educate and inform as well as entertain. And droning on about ‘diversity’ once again is not the response to these revelations I want.
I wouldn’t expect the likes of Graham Norton or Claudia Winkleman to receive the same amount of money for doing what they do as someone receiving benefits in Scunthorpe. The entertainment world has always rewarded its stars way out of proportion to what they actually do; that’s why those stars live in nice parts of the country and most of us don’t. Millions of Americans may have been struggling knee-deep in poverty during the Great Depression of the 1930s, yet Hollywood treated its celluloid heroes and heroines like kings and queens. They lived in immense luxury in comparison to those marooned in the Midwest dustbowls, but the population still crammed into the cinemas to watch them. Does the Mail imagine knowing that Chris Evans is paid £2.2 million will suddenly provoke a massive fall in his Radio 2 listening figures?
Some jobs are paid better than others; that’s a simple fact. Hedge-fund managers and top City people earn astronomical amounts by average standards, and politicians don’t do badly out of the various directorships they can boast on top of their MPs salaries, not to mention the fees they receive for public speaking; just ask Gideon. Are any of them doing work more valuable than fighting fires and crime or healing the sick? So what are we supposed to make of the fact that some of the most famous names in television and radio earn a lot as well? It can hardly have come as a great surprise to any of us. Anyone with ambition would obviously like to earn enough money to live in relative comfort and to not have to worry about paying the rent; but only a small handful of professions facilitate that ambition. It’s not great, but it’s life.
© The Editor