BBC allows Audit Office access to accounts

To include information about star salaries

LONDON -- The BBC has finally bowed to pressure to allow the government greater access to its financial accounts, including the hotly contested issue of talent payments.

The BBC's oversight committee, the BBC Trust, said Wednesday it would allow public spending watchdog the National Audit Office "full access" to BBC accounts for the first time, after Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt agreed a deal that will allow the NAO access to all the BBC's information including "access to confidential BBC contracts with third parties."

The NAO will also have right of access to any data it needs for any of its studies, but has agreed that it will not question BBC editorial policy at any time and will not publish any of the confidential data.

The government will now work with the BBC to amend their existing arrangement -- under which the NAO had access only to BBC Trust-approved information -- and will formalize the new arrangement.

"The new arrangements will give the NAO the authority to determine which areas of BBC expenditure it wishes to scrutinize," the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said, and hopes to implement the changes by the end of next month.

The BBC Trust said that the NAO already had extensive access to its information, and said the BBC's independence was unaffected.

"In our view, this does not threaten the BBC's independence from Government or Parliament, provided that the NAO continues to report to the Trust and does not question editorial decision-making," the Trust said.

The move is nevertheless a climbdown for the pubcaster, whose executives have repeatedly argued that keeping confidential accounts was necessary to protect its independence.