Another week, another bleat about pay from a BBC woman. The latest is Sarah Montague, who on April 8 used the Sunday Times to inform us that for co-presenting Radio 4’s Today programme she was receiving the ‘professionally damaging’ sum of £133,000, and that her total BBC earnings fell short of the £150k threshold for appearing on last year’s published list.
Although the article was framed as yet another example of supposed gender discrimination – ‘When I started work 30 years ago it never occurred to me I would be paid less than a man for doing the same job’ – Montague was silent on the matter of her pay having been far below that of programme colleague Mishal Husain, previously reported as earning over £200,000. And for the most part, in complaining of maltreatment 52-year-old Montague had little fresh to say that we had not previously heard, most volubly from BBC pay martyr Carrie Gracie.
However, Montague’s article did contain a few notable self-aggrandisements which she might have been better to keep to herself, the most hubristic being: ‘For years I had been subsidising other people’s lifestyles.’ This lofty claim to have been funding others’ lifestyles comes from the woman entitled, through marriage to a hereditary Baronet, to call herself Lady Brooke. Looking down from her rarefied perch, seemingly it slipped Sarah’s mind that throughout her two decades at the BBC it is the compulsory-licence-fee-paying plebs who have helped maintain her own privileged existence.
Also, her Sunday Times article curiously juxtaposed chutzpah and helplessness: ‘When I joined the BBC more than 20 years ago I was told to set up a company.’ Told to? Sarah Montague is a former stockbroker and businesswoman, and far from being an ingénue in such matters. That aside, anyone who freelances as a company rather than be a payroll employee is personally responsible for negotiating fees; Montague therefore has no justification for having been ‘incandescent with rage’ at being ‘paid so much less than people doing the same job’.
Being a small company can of course be much more tax efficient than paying higher-rate income tax, the loser being the Treasury, hence the reason HMRC takes a particular interest in ‘personal service companies’ who are de facto employees. Sarah Montague Ltd no doubt acts with the utmost probity. Nevertheless, she moans that she has not received any employee benefits nor accrued a BBC pension, and ‘because of that, the pay gap will last my lifetime’. Despite her claim that ‘listeners were outraged on my behalf’, there will be limited public sympathy, especially for someone who for 20 years has enjoyed the potential tax benefit of operating as a company.
Still, despite her lament at not also enjoying the full benefits of a staff contract, Sarah Montague seemingly has the ‘reassurance of my [BBC] workload . . . my diary cannot accommodate the work I am offered from programmes across the organisation’. The latest example of this is her ‘moving to The World At One because I have a deal for the future. That was the easy bit – using the pay of previous presenters as a guide’.
Having previously ‘felt a sap’, in this new role she replaces Martha Kearney, reported to have been earning over £200,000 – a published figure which Montague implies she readily used as the ‘easy’ benchmark for her new and much improved deal. This substantial rise will of course be funded by the licence fee payer. Sarah, please remind me: who is the sap?