How Stephen Barclay MP and the Comptroller General Amyas Morse stung the BBC’s under-fire head of HR Lucy Adams
It was an astonishing day in the Public Accounts Committee (they tweet at @CommonsPAC). Current and former members of the BBC’s executive board and the BBC Trust were brought before the PAC and came across like a bunch of squabbling school children. (See clips here). There were some really astonishing scenes as current and former employees at various levels – an unprecedented seven people appearing at once – contradicted and disagreed with each other time-after-time. The MPs – who had clearly prepared for this in forensic detail, had them for breakfast. They picked up inconsistency after inconsistency, relating it back to documentary evidence they had clearly studied. The theme of “You just said X but in an email on date Y you said Z” recurred all too frequently. Yet all of the people appearing before the PAC were/are on six figure salaries.
#DiversityFail at the top?
A full screening of the evidence session is here – including lists of who appeared: six White middle-aged men and one White woman. What is it about the lack of diversity at the top? And how did Marcus Agius – who had to step down over the Barclays Libor scandal, become a director of the BBC? Then we wonder why salaries and payoffs were so ‘eye-wateringly high’ – as Sir Michael Lyons (who will be familiar to local government readers with long careers) conceded.
Steve Barclay’s sting in the tail
At public policy social media workshops, I have often talked about a scenario where a minister has his or her speech live-shredded on social media as they are delivering it – to the extent that the Q&A session becomes excruciating and where they become the trending news item before they have even left the conference venue. Conservative Steve Barclay MP (whose constituency of North-East Cambridgeshire is up the road from me) took this further.
At the very end of the session, Mr Barclay made it clear to Lucy Adams that he had gotten hold of a leaked document that called into question some of the evidence she had given to the committee. Ms Adams asked to see the document in order to comment on it, but because it was a leaked document Mr Barclay decided it would be best if he handed it over to the Comptroller General – who seems to be sitting in on these hearings far more regularly. So he emailed it directly from his seat for The Comptroller General to make a judgement call on whether it was admissible as evidence. The latter picked it up, and in the finest civil service terms ‘advised Ms Adams to reserve her comments’ on the document. See the last 15 minutes of here.
I’ve not seen that happen in a select committee before – where the interrogators are exchanging information and documents with each other, and/or receiving incoming information in order to pull up a ‘hostile’ witness. By ‘hostile’ I mean a witness being summoned to account for their role in something that has gone badly wrong. This is different from an ‘expert’ witness who is invited in to give MPs the benefit of their wisdom, research or experience.
Bear in mind the current guidance from the House of Commons’ Procedure Committee (see here), will we be seeing that guidance updated? Personally I don’t have a problem with MPs receiving ‘incoming’ from outside the chamber or the committee room. However, in practice they’ll need to come up with systems to manage what can only be an increasing amount of traffic that is sent their way in the near future.