On Monday BBC chiefs will appear before Parliament’s most powerful committee, the Commons Public Accounts Committee.
They will be there to answer questions on the vexed question of employing people through personal service companies to avoid paying tax and national insurance at source.
The BBC will be joined be civil servants from Whitehall and local government who have all been exposed of using this device to employ people and avoid paying tax and national insurance at source.
The scandal was first exposed by me on the ExaroNews website (http://www.exaronews.com) and BBC Newsnight when it was discovered that Ed Lester, the Student Loans chief, had used this device to be paid £182,000 a year.
The furore that followed led Danny Alexander,Chief Secretary to the Treasury, to launch an inquiry which discovered that another 2500 civil servants were using the same device across Whitehall. The review’s findings were also leaked to Exaro and BBC Newsnight.
Less well covered is that the BBC and local government were up to the same thing . Until now both sectors have got away with it. on Monday they can be called to account and should be.
The BBC has enjoyed the protection of Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, and as never been required to disclose the full picture. Indeed the biggest disclosure came from David Mowat, a former member of the public accounts committee, who found out through a freedom of information request that the BBC employed 3000 people- more than the whole of Whitehall – through personal service companies. And none of these were journalists who are exempt from FOI because they are regarded as ” talent.” So the full picture is bound to be much,much bigger.
Similarly Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, has not followed through vigorously what is going on in local government.No attempt has been made to probe tax avoidance at the London boroughs of Barnet, Hackney and Hammersmith and Fulham or the blatant disregard for employing people directly on the Isle of Wight.
Monday will be a great opportunity for the terrier instincts of Margaret Hodge, Richard Bacon, Stephen Barclay, Meg Hillier and Fiona Mactaggart to name but a few to ask a few very pointed questions and demand explanations from the BBC and town halls. I hope they will not disappoint and not be put off by Whitehall sniping about the way they question witnesses.
The BBC after all would not exist if it did not receive licence fees from taxpayers and even non taxpayers. Its new director general George Entwistle, should make the Corporation becoming more transparent as a priority. Over to you, Margaret.
Since this has appeared a full cast list of people summoned to appear has been announced. They are:
Carolyn Downs, Local Government Association, Zarin Patel, Chief Financial Officer, BBC and David Smith, Head of Employment Tax, BBC; Sir Nicholas MacPherson KCB, Permanent Secretary, HM Treasury, Howard Orme, Finance Director, Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, Lin Homer, Chief Executive and Permanent Secretary, HMRC and William Hague, Executive Director, Efficiency and Reform Group, Cabinet Office.
Followers of the story might be interested to know that documents released to me under Freedom of Information point to Harold Orme being directly connected to the controversial appointment of Ed Lester, head of the Students Loan Company, with the knowledge that he would not have any tax or national insurance directly deducted by the Student Loans Company. This is a good call by the committee.
Exaro News will have a story up on their website on Monday evening – after the committee has met.