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The BBC's Private Healthcare Perks And The Lord Living It Large
Some have suggested that a possible factor explaining BBC indifference is that many BBC staff don’t themselves depend on the NHS. The BBC actually spends millions of pounds on private healthcare for its staff. Under a Freedom of Information request, it was revealed that the BBC shelled out almost £2.2 million of public money on private healthcare for several hundred senior BBC staff between 2008-2010.
The Daily Telegraph reports that last year 506 BBC managers benefited from the £1,500-a-year perk. When challenged, the BBC responded that this is ‘common industry practice’ for senior managers, ‘although the BBC has recently announced this benefit will no longer be made available to new senior managers'. (‘Medical insurance for 500 BBC bosses’, Daily Telegraph, March 12, 2012; not found online). No word, though, on existing senior BBC managers having to forgo their private health insurance.
There are also ties that link BBC bosses with private health companies. Recall that the BBC is managed by an Executive Board while the BBC Trust is there to ensure that standards such as impartiality and fairness are maintained in the public interest.
Consider Dr Mike Lynch OBE who sits on the BBC's Executive Board. Lynch is a non-executive director of Isabel Healthcare Ltd, a private company specialising in medical software. He is also a director of Autonomy PLC, a computing company whose customers include Isabel Healthcare, Blue Cross Blue Shield (a health insurance firm), AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, and several other pharmaceutical companies.
He is also on the advisory board of Apax Partners, which describes itself as ‘one of the leading global investors in the Healthcare sector’ and has invested over €2.5 billion in the area. These medical interests all stand to gain from the new legislation. Is this the resumé of a man who would really insist on impartial reporting of controversial ‘reforms’ of the NHS? (For more info click here.)
The Chairman of the BBC, Lord Patten of Barnes, is similarly tied up in private medical and financial interests. Lord Patten is a member of the European Advisory Board for a private equity investment company called Bridgepoint. Alan Milburn, the former Secretary of State for Health under Tony Blair, is chair of Bridgepoint’s board. The company has been involved in 17 healthcare deals over recent years. Its current investments in the UK total more than £1.1 billion.
One company acquired by Bridgepoint for £414 million in July 2010 is the residential care company Care UK. As mentioned in Part 1 of this alert, Care UK chairman Jonathan Nash donated £21,000 in November 2009 to run Tory Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s personal office. Further transactions for Bridgepoint and a private healthcare company involved Alliance Medical who sold the MRI scan company for £600 million to Dubai International LLC in 2007.
Lord Patten was appointed to the Lords in 2005 and, before being accepted as the head of the BBC, was urged to cut back on his business activities. However this didn’t happen, and in addition to his advisory role in Bridgepoint, he remains a stakeholder of energy giant EDF, advisor to telecom business Hutchison Europe and a member of the advisory board of BP.
None of this is intended to suggest that BBC managers have been crudely leaning on BBC editors to suppress news coverage of opposition to the dismantling of the NHS. We are aware of no evidence to that effect. But the interests and priorities of senior managers certainly have a more subtle impact on the culture of the organisation beneath them. As even the Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger (no radical) once told us:
'If you ask anybody who works in newspapers, they will quite rightly say, "Rupert Murdoch", or whoever, "never tells me what to write", which is beside the point: they don't have to be told what to write.'
The observation, of course, generalises to the broadcast media. And anyway, surely the interlocking links between politics, the media and private financial and industrial interests should be exposed and widely debated.
A strong additional factor is likely that the Hutton Inquiry fiasco generated a climate of fear at the BBC that deters journalists from challenging the government too strongly. We will return to this point below.