champagne socialists

An October 27th Freedom of Information Request by a Ms. R Keane via the website What Do They Know asked the BBC to reveal how much it spent on alcohol as well as the names of the merchants which supplied it with alcohol. The BBC gladly complied within the boundaries of the law, revealing that it had spent £43,000 with Majestic Wines alone in the period between October 1st 2013 and October 26th 2014. 

The Guardian wasn’t too happy about the number, citing the Beeb’s “rigorous expense policy” meant to “ensure value for money” for television license holder and asking whether the broadcaster should switch to discount super market chains as opposed to the specialist wine merchant, Majestic.

But is the BBC’s booze bill really a big deal? Let’s look at the numbers.

The BBC received £3.73 billion in licensing fees according to its Full Financial Statement 2013/14 released in July 2014. That means it spent one-ten thousandth of a percent (0.001%) of its licensing fee budget at Majestic. As for the £145.50 per television license, £43,000 comes to the equivalent of 295.5 households contributing their TV tax to the Majestic enjoyment of the staff which produces endless hours of news and entertainment. And in terms of the BBC staff of 23,000, its accountants can show that the world’s largest broadcaster spent £1.88 on alcohol at Majestic per employee.

BBC Staff event

The BBC’s response to the Freedom of Information Request stated clearly that the £43,000 figure does not include alcohol purchases for internal catering and celebratory events such as awards ceremonies and “end of series party” (or the Farewell to Television Centre party in the banner image) so all told, the Beeb is spending more on alcohol than just at Majestic. 

But really, any complaints by the media about lavish spending by the publicly-funded entity are ludicrous. Apart from the fact that the amount spent per employee is very likely to be lower than that spent by than their private counterparts (does anyone have figures of how much Sky splashes out on employee parties?), £43,000 is only £29 more than the £42,971 it spent in 2012 and £133 more than in 2010. Furthermore, a BBC spokesman told the Telegraph in the summer of 2013 that “total spend from our preferred supplier amounts to just over £2 per head,” more than the £1.88 it spent last year.

All told, £43,000 is a small price to pay for the entertainment of 23,000 government employees. And anyone who argues otherwise need only be reminded of the £30 million of taxpayer money given to the Royal Household in 2012-2013, a house that holds considerably fewer than 23,000 people.