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No 10 queries Entwistle pay-off

No 10 queries Entwistle pay-off
Pressure is mounting on former BBC director general George Entwistle over his £450,000 pay-off, with both the Government and Labour condemning the arrangement.

The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman said today: "It's hard to justify a sizeable pay off of that sort, but that's a matter for the BBC Trust."

Culture Secretary Maria Miller, who was summoned to the Commons to answer an Urgent Question, said it would be “hard” for the BBC Trust to prove the settlement represented value for money. Her Labour counterpart Harriet Harman echoed these comments, saying the Trust "cannot justify" the deal.

Yet despite the furore over the pay-off, David Cameron still has full confidence in BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten. "The important thing is for Chris Patten to lead the BBC out of its present difficulties," said the spokesman.

Citing the widespread public interest in the matter, Lord Patten has written Culture Select Committee chair John Whittingdale to explain the £450,000 pay-off.

His letter states: "George Entwistle approached me to ask if suitable terms could be agreed for his resignation... I consulted my colleagues on the Trust’s Remuneration Committee and took legal advice. Our conclusion was that a settlement on these terms was justified and necessary. The alternative was long drawn-out discussions and continuing uncertainty."

Ms Harman, who was granted the Urgent Question, issued a warning that there were vested interests, which she called the "enemy waiting to pounce", looking to take advantage of the BBC's current troubles.

She called on politicians on all sides to take keep their distance from the BBC: "We should not trespass on the BBC’s independence. The next victim of this crisis must not be the independence of the BBC."

The debate over the size of the pay-off comes as BBC chiefs moved today to stem the crisis engulfing the Corporation with a major overhaul of its management and the "stepping aside" of two senior staffers.

Director of news Helen Boaden and deputy director of news Stephen Mitchell are temporarily suspending their duties over Newsnight's failure to broadcast a programme exposing Jimmy Savile as a paedophile.

A report from Ken MacQuarrie, a BBC executive, has led to the BBC consolidating its management structure for news output in the wake of the Newsnight programme that wrongly linked a top Tory to child abuse.

In a statement today, the corporation said the review led the BBC to “re-establish a single management to deal with all output, Savile-related or otherwise”, and Ms Boaden did not feel in a position to carry out this role at present.

In the search for Mr Entwistle’s permanent replacement, the BBC is expected to re-interview candidates who were rejected last time.

The Guardian reports that Lord Patten is to talk to Caroline Thomson, the BBC's former chief operating officer, Ed Richards, Ofcom's chief executive, and "one or two other names" in order to find a new leader for the beleaguered organisation.

Downing Street has indicated that the Prime Minister will allow the BBC time to come up with the right solution. "It's clear that the last few weeks have affected the credibility of that organisation," said the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman today. "Clearly they are now focused on those problems and are getting a grip."

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