Broadcaster Andrew Marr is understood to have broken the terms of his £600,000 BBC contact by publicly campaigning against proposals to increase competitive tendering for BBC radio programmes.
Marr’s was the most high-profile name among 37 current and former BBC employees who signed a letter published in the Sunday Times yesterday claiming that budgets will suffer if plans go ahead forcing the BBC to commission 60% of its radio content by competitive tender by the year 2022.
Under the scheme, which is in the draft BBC charter and agreement, BBC in-house production teams would compete against independent production companies.
By signing the letter Marr, who presents Start the Week on Radio 4, appears to be in breach of BBC editorial guidelines.
Programme makers, editorial staff, reporters and presenters primarily associated with the BBC should also clear with Heads of Department any letters to the press if they deal with the subject matter of the programmes, any political, public policy or controversial issue, or relate to the BBC or broadcasting. Even presenters who only occasionally present programmes for the BBC should normally clear letters relevant to the subject matter of their programmes if they are to be published around the time of transmission.
The BBC has confirmed to Heat Street that new BBC radio boss James Purnell – the relevant head of department – was unaware of the letter until it was published, suggesting that in taking this stand, Marr and his colleagues defied the rules.
Other current Radio 4 presenters to sign the letter with Marr include Richard Coles, Prof Jim Al-Khalili, Libby Purves and John Wilson.
When asked if any existing BBC presenter would face disciplinary action for the breach, the BBC refused to comment.
The row leaves Purnell, a former Labour cabinet minister, in a tricky situation.
The fact that he was unaware of the letter suggests he is already out of touch with some of BBC radio’s top ‘talent’.
The letter said Marr and his colleagues were “extremely worried” about the proposal because it “threatens [that] excellence.”
It said: “The proposal would mean an extra 3,000 hours of output being put out to tender every year. This is poor value for money: the cost of commissioning-related administration will increase, but money spent on actual programmes will be cut, squeezing radio budgets that external and in-house producers already find barely adequate. It makes no sense to spend less on making programmes but more on the cost of commissioning them. This sets bureaucracy above creativity. We urge the government to reconsider the present proposal and approve a significantly slower change to protect the interests of BBC licence-fee payers. “
A BBC spokesman said: “The letter was nothing to do with James Purnell, who was only saw it once the press brought it to our attention.”