When the idea of a united Ireland is put forward, the unionist response is usually based on hard-headed economics: who would want to be tied to the coat-tails of the south, so heavy with massive debt? And who could blame them? The same applied to Scotland’s referendum: David Cameron and Co successfully persuaded the Scottish people that they’d pay a heavy financial price if they broke from the union. And in recent days, whatever about the outrage over “the bastards” and ‘the Trojan horse” and “Curry my yoghurt” and Gregory Campbell’s choice in toilet paper, people here were particularly irate when that hammer of justice, the BBC’s Spotlight, revealed that Sinn Féin MLAs had claimed almost £700,000 in expenses for research from a company run by the party’s finance managers. And just to be even-handed, the BBC revealed that £4, 355 was claimed in one year by the DUP’s Willie Hay for his constituency office’s heating oil – the cost of heating his offices increased from £265 over a ten-year period.
Fear nor favour for no individual or party, then. We’re lucky to have Spotlight and Nolan and the other shows that peer into dark political corners on our behalf. That’s why I’m looking forward to a programme on Alan Yentob. In 2008, the BBC Creative director who at the time had a basic salary of £300,000, got £27,000 in expenses for stuff like a £120 cake, £125 to have the CD player in his car fixed, and £16,830 for “entertainment”,which included meals with celebrities and dinners for BBC staff. Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Taxpayers Alliance at the time, said: “Licence fee payers will be dismayed by these incredible figures”. You said it, Matthew. They might even have reached for the b for bloody awful word.
Then there’s the case of the BBC’s Digital Initiative, which the Corporation said was really necessary. Here’s what Margaret Hodge, the Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts said about it last April:
“The BBC’s Digital Media Initiative was a complete failure. Licence fee payers paid nearly £100 million for this supposedly essential system but got virtually nothing in return”. Apparently the BBC told her Committee in 2011 that it was “an absolute essential to have”.In fact the BBC only ever used the Digital Media Inititiave to make one programme called, appropriately enough, ‘Bang Goes the Theory’.
What’s that you say, Virginia? At least the Beeb has laid bare the skullduggery of Sinn Féin and the DUP in money matters? Well, maybe. But I bet you hadn’t heard about the DMI fiasco that cost us £100 million. Or that nice Mr Yentob has or had a £3 million house in London and has a £2.5 million BBC pension.
Stand by for a Spotlight exposé on same any day now.