Swinson: BBC Gender Gap should be a wake up call

We’ll all have seen those BBC pay figures today. How senior executives must have wept into their prosecco when Chris Evans proved to be such a failure on Top Gear.

On one level, you could be appalled at someone getting paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to read the news, or spout childish banalities on the radio. On the other, you can recognise that if they didn’t pay those rates, nobody we’ve ever heard of would be on the BBC – and as soon as we had heard of them, they’d be off.  Given the general high quality of the BBC’s output, I’m certainly not going to grumble too much about the fact that they have to pay high wages. I might be annoyed that Laura Kuenssberg doesn’t get near the list and a whole load of male journalists do.

The absence of certain high profile names like Mary Berry are, I’m sure, more to do with the fact that the BBC used to pay a production company for the Bake Off and they would have paid her directly.

My point about Kuenssberg is a serious one. The figures show that of the 108 people at the BBC who earn more than £150,000, just 34 are women.

Only 5 women are in the top 20 and 1 in the top 10. Claudia Winkleman, the top earning female. earns a quarter (£400,000 – £449,000) of the salary of the highest earning male, Chris Evans (£2.2m – 2.249m).

Former Equalities Minister Jo Swinson had this to say:

I hope these figures will act as a really strong wake-up call.

We need to eliminate the gender pay gap as quickly possible.

Making gender pay gap data transparent is vital to pierce the bubble of complacency in organisations. That is why I was so determined in 2015 to win the fight in government to introduce mandatory gender pay gap reporting.

That means that not only do we know the picture in the BBC, soon we will be able to see how other media organisations compare.

These figures are truly embarrassing. What is even worse is that the BBC knew it was going to have to publish them ages ago. You would have thought they would have done something about it.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Eddie Sammon 19th Jul '17 - 8:11pm

    Some of the gender pay gaps at the BBC are shocking. Also, I didn’t realise there was so much money in radio. That’s what I’m taking away from this!

  • Richard Underhill 19th Jul '17 - 8:20pm

    An American commentator at Wimbledon was asked “Should women play five sets of tennis?” The answer was an immediate YES with a summary of historical attitudes to ability.

  • My eyebrows have been almost permanently raised at some of the figures on this list, but in the name of fairness, I think we have to remember that some radio presenters also do TV work, and some get stuck into the research, while others will leave it to the anonymous producers, and of course they aren’t always doing the same hours and so on. In other words, Chris Evan’s hourly rate may not be higher than Winkleman’s.

    Nevertheless, it reminds us that it’s still men occupying most of the prestigious positions, and while I accept the BBC has to pay for star power, how come the biggest stars are almost all men? Some of that will be cultural and historical. The most loved and best paid stars have been on the go for a while, but I also think that the world of tv and radio is guilty of selecting generic women of a particular type to do tv work. To justify the higher salaries, you have to be difficult to replace.

  • Laurence Cox 19th Jul '17 - 11:28pm

    I think that we also need to see the amounts paid to the various independent production companies that some of the BBC “stars” shelter themselves behind. Like Eddie, I was amazed at the amount that some radio presenters are getting. Can Steve Wright really be worth over half-a-million a year?

  • I’m biased, as I can’t stand the Steve Wright show, but no, he’s not. However, he does have a distinctive style, and I assume a lot of others love him, and presumably could be paid more elsewhere, so I suppose the market says he does. But it’s not just him, his show, when I have the misfortune to tune in, has a gaggle of sycophants involved in the production of the show.

    To make sense, I’d be more interested to see how much it costs per episode of a particular show, which includes all of the production costs as well as the salary of the well known presenter.

    I think it’s a shame that very talented broadcasters, such as Eddie Mair, are earning less than someone like Steve Wright, when I presume Eddie has to do a lot more homework to stay on top of his job. But I suppose there isn’t a big demand from commercial radio for someone like him.

  • “you can recognise that if they didn’t pay those rates, nobody we’ve ever heard of would be on the BBC – and as soon as we had heard of them, they’d be off”

    And here is the argument I have a real issue with. As a tax funded service and the only organisation with market share that would be called monopoly power in any other industry the BBC has the ability to effect the market for the “On air tallent” but chooses not too.

    What this does show is how badly managed the BBC is when it comes to cost control.

    I imagine many of the female stars are being paid what it takes to retain them but the male stars simply thought they would take a punt and ask for something silly. For some reason the BBC management say yes. Perhaps that is sexism, it is certainly stupidity. As the Chris Evans figure shows, who ever rushed to sign him up after the Clarkson sacking shows it was management incompetence is a big factor in this.

  • Additionally, it is quite a failing to have this operating in such a way that many big salaries are hidden by the production company system.

  • John Barrett 20th Jul '17 - 10:41am

    The BBC salary disclosure shows many things, but at least two issues are worth some more thought and discussion.

    The first is that the eye-watering salaries being paid to many, by the public through their TV licence, are as a result of the “BBC bubble” that exists particularly in London,where many others in the corporation, both on screen and off screen, have been paid much more that those outside the BBC. This has been facilitated over many years by a structure with no need to develop in a cost efficient manner and which every political party has not been willing to change – as most parties have kowtowed to the BBC for a variety of reasons. The quality of many programmes could be maintained without the excessive costs in the BBC structure. Did the BBC really need to send 493 people to China or to send 455 to Rio to cover the Olympics?

    The gender pay gap issue has distracted attention away from the question as to what people are actually worth, or need to be paid to retain their services.

    Claudia Winkleman appears to be a BBC favourite and is, I believe, grossly overpaid for what many would consider no particularly obvious talent, but rather than question her ludicrously high salary, she is now being compared to the men and being viewed as being underpaid by many.

    One way to reduce the gender gap would be to reduce the over inflated salaries of the overpaid men and women to a sensible level, and if a few were to go to other employers on TV or radio, we could still listen to them or watch them on different channels.

    If many of the highly paid individuals could in fact earn as much or more elsewhere I am sure they would be off like a shot. I suspect if Ms Winkleman and others receiving such high salaries were not employed by the BBC, we would see and hear very little of them anywhere else.

  • John Barrett 20th Jul '17 - 10:59am

    To give a couple of examples of the BBC’s inability to control costs, or to exist in what many would call “the real world”.

    The former Labour MP James Purnell, who was earning around £65,000 as an MP resigned after his involvement in the failed coup against Gordon Brown.

    The BBC decision to then snap him up and then employ him for £295,00 a year was a shock to many and beyond belief at the time.

    Many years ago George Entwistle, the former director-general, was replaced by Lord Hall, who was set to earn £450,000 a year as well as a £82,000 pension which he receives because he is a former BBC employee.

    You could not make it up.

  • Why is this trivial irrelevance being discussed at all? Oh yes, to distract from the £12,000 that was stolen from my family’s household retirement funds yesterday, along with millions of other victims, despite the fact that life expectancy is not increasing.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 20th Jul '17 - 11:40am

    I think the article and our deputy leader would carry more weight on gender pay if they even mentioned the obscenity of salaries paid from a compulsory licence fee the poor are forced to pay.

    The pay of a star at ITV or Sky bothers me not a jot, they , with high salaries and taxes , pay for our public services . Of which the hideously commercial , and unequal , and undemocratic BBC is not anymore one of them.

  • Malcolm Todd 20th Jul '17 - 12:30pm

    Money paid to private sector and public sector workers doesn’t have different properties. It is just as true to say that the salaries paid to BBC staff (including the highly paid ones) pay for Sky and ITV. (Or do you think that BBC staff never pay for TV subscriptions or buy goods advertised on commercial television?)

  • John Barrett

    I’ed agree on the James Purnell point, I couldn’t comment on Winkleman as I can’t remember ever having watched anything she is on in the last decade. I would suggest there is scope for paying a bit for certain primetime slots, but not of the level of the men at the top of the list (and those hidden by production companies).

    An important point is the journalists on the list. I’m rare on here for thinking that the BBC is very biased (in favour of my views), and providing poor quality in terms of factual accuracy and detail regularly. I would prefer to have a higher turnover of faces on screen and a bit more mental muscle off air getting really good research done and better prepping the on-air team to produce higher quality content.

    It looks like there is a culture in the BBC of pay lots to keep familiar faces but scrimp on the meat of the stories. There are issues with attitudes and group think that would need to be addressed too, but this story reinforces my view that the focus is on the wrong things.

  • I see the usual suspects have jumped on to their soap boxes over this. Sorry the BBC pay disclosure annex to the 2017 annual report provides no real evidence of a “gender pay gap”. Remember what is being disclosed is total Pay within a period and not Salary.

    For those who wish to dispute my conclusion, kindly use the pay information for the Strictly Come Dancing team, as the basis for your argument and also take into account that several of this team made appearances on other programmes. So without significantly more detail we can not say whether any individual on that show is or isn’t underpaid relative to the other members of the team. Likewise, we do not know if 2016/17 was an exceptional year for Chris Evans because certain payments became due in that year.

    I suspect that many in their haste to focus on the gender pay gap and to complain about how over paid certain individuals are, are missing the bigger agenda: the government is using public opinion and ‘outrage’ to both cap public sector salaries and pay increases, also it provides further ammunition with which to attack the BBC, because as we all know, no one at Sky is paid more than £150,000pa.

  • Roland

    The reason people have jumped on Chris Evans is not just that he was poaid so much but how bad he is in many roles. Now it is likely that his salary is so over inflated due to the Top Gear deal, which was announced very fast after the sacking of Clarkson. That is going to look like a knee jerk reaction from senior management to say “get me a big name, now” which will have put them is a very weak negotiating position and given them little time to assess if he was fit for the role (from what I saw he wasn’t).

    Many “defenders of the BBC” see criticism as heresy, attacks to destroy an institution they love. The reality is that most people want the BBC to continue and improve. If you isolate an organisation from criticism particularly when it has clear failings you don’t help it. It reminds me of Brown and Harman claiming that those pointing out they were making amess of the contry during the crisis of “talking Britain down” or extreme Brexiters responding to criticism of their behaviour and incompetence of “lacking patriotism.” I don’t buy it from David Davis or Gordon Brown and I don’t buy it from the BBC’s management’s apologists now.

  • Bill le Breton 20th Jul '17 - 1:35pm

    I have always thought that jobs of a certain seniority, responsibility and prestige should be conducted with part of the application process a sealed bid by the applicant detailing what s/he is prepared to pay or be paid for the job.

    Of course one would not necessarily employ the person with the lowest ‘tender’, but it would mean that the applicant had to bear in mind what s/he considered the value they would bring and the value to them of the post.

    Incidentally, the only person I ever saw leave the public sector for a private sector job was, after just six weeks, offered by their new employer as a secondee back to a public sector organisation, until their initial contract period had expired.

  • Malcolm Todd

    The difference with the BBC is that it funded via a tax, it has no actually account ability for anything. If I don’t like an ITV output I don’t watch and the advertisers will over time not be willing to advertise on a programme where fewer people are watching, when Sky did not provide sufficient value for me I cancelled my subscription and made use of other services.

    How do I exercise my choice for the BBC?

    There are many ways the BBC could adapt and it could have been proactive about proposing this in advance of the recent changes but all of these senior executives on hundreds of thousands of pounds a year couldn’t think of any. Like I have said, management incompetence.

  • John Barrett 20th Jul '17 - 2:24pm

    One of the strengths of the BBC used to be the high quality of its news coverage, but since subscribing to a multi-channel news package, I can confirm that the BBC is outdone on many levels by many other news organisations, for breadth and quality of news coverage and if offered the choice, I would cancel my “subscription” to BBC News.

    Many other programmes are of a high quality, as are those produced by other channels and companies. Many of the highest quality and popular programmes, like Game of Thrones have been on Sky Atlantic. Many keen sports fans now go elsewhere for sports coverage. More an more people now have a wide range of suppliers of TV, radio, films and other entertainment. why then have we stuck to the old outdated funding of the BBC?

    The one advantage the BBC always had was that viewers were not forced to watch endless adverts, but now with much viewing pre-recorded viewers can fast forward and miss the ads.

    The fact that people, no matter how poor, have to help fund the excessive salaries we have seen detailed recently should be of concern to our party.

    We need a debate and then to produce a policy which accepts that it is no longer acceptable to continue with the present arrangements and for people who do not watch or listen to BBC broadcasts to have to pay for a BBC licence, or we will be robbing the poor to give to the rich.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 20th Jul '17 - 2:55pm


    Your comments do not even touch on the subject I mention, the compulsion of people to pay for a service they have no freedom to choose or not . Your attempt to combine it with voluntary subscription is a non event . I am not forced to pay for ITV or Sky in my desire to watch channels other than the BBC.

    The Green party are committed to abolition of the appalling tv licence .

    UKIP are committed to abolishing the self same outrage against liberty.

    Shan’t stop on this till the supposedly liberal Liberal party , and supposedly democratic, Democratic one, are committed to putting individual freedom on this matter before outdated nonsense.

    We can have BBC Public, funded, like our great theatres and orchestras , from the tax that goes to the DCMS, the same does not interfere with the supposed independence of those institutions, cannot ever remember government interference in the RSC pr LSO !!

    This genuine public service channel or two, could be again of the quality that as a child led me to watch and listen and learn, from great performers , artists and thinkers. It would need no more than , say a billion , maximum.

    We can have BBC Commercial , whatever the powers there choose to put on, as now with most of the current output, populist entertainment , with commercial breaks and sponsorship.

    The we would have honesty for all rather than tyranny for the poor.

  • Richard Underhill 20th Jul '17 - 4:02pm

    John Barrett 20th Jul ’17 – 2:24pm Many keen sports fans now go elsewhere for sports coverage. Indeed, this is mainly because the BBC is starved for funds. When Bernie Ecclestone took Formula 1 motor racing away and awarded it to ITV the BBC begged to be allowed to bid, but Bernie refused. ITV gave us a broadcasting first, advertisements during live sport, otherwise excellent.
    The BBC got it back, but realised they could not afford it and passed the parcel to Channel, who are doing a good job, except that more programmes are highlights only, with the actual races punctuated by advertisements.
    When cricket was taken off free to air broadcasting one of the commentators was in tears, an Australian not usually considered a softie, but he could see what would happen because of his experience of Australian TV. Cricket is fighting back with 50 over games and 20 over games, but the damage is severe. The widespread sale of school sports-fields by the Thatcher government also did damage.
    When the technology of colour TV first came in the director of BBC2, David Attenborough, used sport to kick-start the process at a time when colour TV sets were considered an expensive luxury for the sort of people who commuted first class from Surrey. Environmental and nature programmes benefit as a consequence.
    We have just had two weeks of Wimbledon on the BBC. Excellent.
    As Association football tries to price itself out of the market, alternatives arrive, such as the Rugby Six Nations, not on the narrow-casters but free to air.

  • I’m afraid I don’t share Lorenzo Cherin’s outrage at the principle of the public service licence fee for the BBC – although, to be fair, I do find the details of the salaries released disturbing on a number of counts.

    Chris Evans and Gary Lineker (not to mention monotone Alan Shearer) I would not miss one bit. But to put it in context I gather Ant & Dec (who have their tax issues, i.e. paying it) get over £ 30 million from ITV to present their peculiar brand of banality)

    On the Licence fee, it’s odd that Lorenzo goes weak at the knees to maintain one traditional British institution (i.e. the Monarchy) but rages at the traditional method of paying for the BBC.

    Now, Lorenzo, you do pay for Ant & Dec’s £ 30 million via the increased cost of goods and services advertised on the commercial channel (with up to a third of an hour taken up in adverts). There are just so many times you can put on the kettle unless you want to combine it with countless visits to another place..

    Yes. there’s some poor stuff on the BBC but there’s a lot of good stuff too (including the Parliament Channel).

    PS Honesty compels me to declare an interest in that next month I qualify for a free licence – as you will too Lorenzo if you live long enough.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 20th Jul '17 - 5:04pm


    It is not just a moment ago you disputed sarcasm as your attitude to the monarchy, then say I go weak at the knees, when the only one that does that to me is Princess Kate and I rarely mention this in a political thread ! Actually your example is daft , I am consistent in wanting to maintain and reform the great institutions, as you know I am a critic of the NHS but do not want that abolished either.

    You mistake licence fees paid by poor people to fund the rich at the BBC , and taxes that fund our monarchy , NHS, etc not paid by poor people.

    I advocate the model I advance to give us free , for the poorest, brilliant quality non commercial broadcasting , under the model you support we are forcing those on benefits to fund garbage at worst , personal taste at best. I go weak at the knees for the best music at the Proms and see no difference to funding it out of the same pot as the concert orchestras featured in it as guests .

    As for the commercials on the channels with adverts, we can only exist in the social market economy we do and thank goodness, I have some choice there unlike as to my compusory licence fee , enforced by detector vans , that never patrol or visit or force entry t ensure support for her Majesty Queen Elizabeth .

  • Malcolm Todd 20th Jul '17 - 5:35pm


    I was making a different point: you referred to the high salaries at ITV and Sky as “paying for” public services and connected that with their private-sector status. My point is that it works both ways – public sector pays for private just as much as the other way around.

    As it happens, I agree that the TV licence fee is no longer supportable as a method of funding – it is regressive and oppressive. But I think we should still have a publicly funded BBC, paid for out of general taxation (with a rolling commitment to funding over several years, much like now, to minimise government interference). That this would mean some people paying for it who don’t use it doesn’t bother me in the slightest – I happen to believe in community services funded by obligatory taxation, so long as the basis of taxation is fair. (Which obviously is the beginning of a whole other argument, but that’s life.)
    By the way, the idea that if you don’t want to watch ITV you don’t have to pay for it is just wrong (as David Raw points out) – in fact, there’s no connection at all between watching and paying for ITV; and whilst you could try avoiding buying any products that are advertised on telly, I suggest it’s probably easier to avoid paying your licence fee…

  • Lorenzo The Royal family. It’s not sarcasm its indifference – combined with 20/20 vision of the absurdity of describing a human being (that’s what she is) as ‘majestic’ or one of the lesser ones as a ‘highness’ combined with all the toadying and snobbery that goes with it.

    You (and all Liberals) would do well to read Robbie Burns the bard of my adopted country :

    Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord,
    Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
    Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
    He’s but a coof for a’ that:
    For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
    His ribband, star, an’ a’ that:
    The man o’ independent mind
    He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

    My Granddad who went down the pit at twelve, and Dad who fought in the skies of Normandy, they are my Kings………….. They had independent minds and looked and really laughed at all that.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 21st Jul '17 - 6:24pm

    Very good responses from Malcolm with whom I am, in agreement on much ,note I am staunch for a massively slimmed down, genuinely publicly funded service.

    David speaks from good sense and true values in the above comments, that are effective.

    As one who loves the red red rose of the same bard , we can share both the liking for him, and the disliking of sycophancy wherever it is found. With the exception of a , it has to be said, from me, almost , and with good cause, swooning response to the Duchess of a university part of our nation, it is admiration for genuine service that leads me to support the monarch and her family, but in no way starry eyed or grovelling to anyone.

    Why , as on that , can we not share a stance as Malcolm seems to , that forcing poor people who do not pay tax but have to pay what Wedgie the socialist , called , a poll tax on viewing, and was against, is an outrage. In this you are, with due respect, very conservative in your liking for tradition,unjustified and unnecessary , more than radical, and , I , in my dislike of it , far more radical than any mistakenly ,perceived, conservative reason for liking the monarchy, reformed, as a useful public role , to at least for the next few generations, carry on.

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