The 24hr Tragedy Cycle

Not before time, the public enquiry into the tragic events at Grenfell Tower has juddered into motion. Already we’ve heard several days of heartrending and tragic testimony from those who’ve lost loved ones in the most dreadful, almost unimaginable circumstances. These Commemoration hearings will perhaps bring some small crumb of comfort to those left behind to live with the crippling pain, anguish and guilt that always accompanies such a sudden and traumatic event.

But since when did a public enquiry become a fitting vehicle for these once very private and deeply personal parts of the grieving process?

Will these eulogies to the departed teach us anything about how this tragedy unfolded, or forewarn us against similar dangers in the future? Will they shed any light on decisions made long ago that formed the next link in this chain of catastrophe? I’d like to think so, but a tear-jerking tale of personal loss cannot advance our understanding of the events leading up to that terrible and unforgettable night.

This blurring of lines between the judicial and the personal is an unhealthy one, both for the victims of tragedy and for society at large. While friends, family and community might offer essential support to those directly affected by disaster, the public enquiry is designed to heal and salve the wider society. Its primary role is to establish exactly which variables contributed to the tragedy, and to honour the suffering of the departed by ensuring that we learn something valuable from their deeply unjust and untimely demise. We all feel a sense of loss and bewilderment after such a monumental event, and so we look to the instruments of State to provide answers and reassurance that never again will we tread that same path toward disaster.

It feels deeply ironic that our media driven and secular society is becoming ever more obsessed with personal grief, as we turn away from the eternal and spiritual to place our trust in the inconstant and temporal. Funerals, memorials and services can no longer satisfy our collective search for closure and meaning. These ancient rites of passage and grief are now recycled into documentaries and retrospectives, while yet more tributes to the lost are being shoehorned into a judicial process designed primarily to establish the facts.

As these personal tragedies are played out day by day on the public stage, I’m forced to wonder who benefits most from this protracted display of emotional outpouring. Time will tell, but I’m not convinced that these overly worthy displays of grief and loss will move us any closer to the answers we seek. Still, it makes a cracking good real-life melodrama that we can all involve ourselves in, whether we were there or not.

Who are we really thinking of when we turn on the TV to catch the next episode?

Images courtesy of Hazel Brown & Johanna Ljungblom at FreeImages.com

The BBC’s new Personal Services Comedy

Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s the one where a bunch of too-clever-by-half wheeler dealers get caught out for tax dodging, and then start crying and blaming each other.

The proceedings inside Parliament’s Committee Rooms are not known for producing outstanding satire, but there are always exceptions.

Earlier today, various BBC presenters including Kirsty Lang and Liz Kershaw were giving evidence on the widespread use of Personal Services Companies (PSCs) within that organisation. These companies have been increasingly scrutinised by both the press and HMRC over recent years because of well-heeled professionals using them as vehicles to minimise their tax exposure. It’s a shame that the rest of us aren’t permitted to offset the cost of our lunch or our daily commute, but I digress.

However, according to both Lang’s and Kershaw’s accounts, the situation at the BBC was entirely different. The Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee heard tales of the taxpayer funded broadcaster forcing its presenters to set up such companies in order to avoid paying National Insurance on their salaries. It’s unclear to what extent the presenters themselves benefited from such arrangements, but I’ve never heard of a Personal Services Company being formed to increase tax liability. If Christa Ackroyd’s tax bill of £419K is anything to go by, then we’re talking about a lot more than a couple of lunches and a few train tickets here and there.

The BBC stands accused of using these service companies as a way of bypassing normal workers’ rights such as sick leave, with one presenter stating, on the record, how she felt forced to work through almost an entire course of chemotherapy. These poor, downtrodden public servants paint a picture of a tyrannical corporation that has driven some of its familiar faces to the brink of suicide.

The highlight of today’s show was when the BBC’s Paul Lewis said “this isn’t a story of well-paid presenters trading through companies to avoid tax.” Although I’m pretty sure he knows what kind of PAYE take-home is needed to run up a £400K tax bill. It’s funny how the BBC’s money guy suddenly got all shy about hard numbers on the presenters’ side, yet he was pretty outspoken about the £10 million tax the BBC has allegedly sidestepped.

So, if I’m following the plot correctly, the taxpayer funded BBC forced these presenters to set up Personal Service Companies, and as a result both parties paid a lot less tax, but that was only the intention of mendacious BBC executives. Any favourable tax conditions enjoyed by the presenters were entirely incidental and forced upon them against their will. Poor souls.

No doubt that Christa Ackroyd would much rather have paid the lion’s share of half a million pounds to HMRC in exchange for the security of sick leave, and it’s just a shame that the BBC declined to tell its side of the story to the committee today.

Now that really would’ve been a punchline!

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A Jolly ‘Oliday with Auntie

As the sparkling madness of the festive season fades to January grey, many of us are already beginning to think of summer escapes to warmer climes as we gaze across the British new year’s bleak concrete vista.

Just like buying a car or perhaps even renting one, the ritual sun-pilgrimage bristles with fiendish legal and financial traps, forever eager to ensnare the unwary. Luckily the BBC is poised to help all of us paella-munching mortals with a brand-new series of Rip-Off Britain: Holidays. Naturally, this valuable public service necessitates not just one, but three highly paid presenters jetting off to Tenerife so they might capture the welcoming warmth of this desirable destination as a backdrop for each short segment introduction.

I’ve no doubt that the idea of a more modest, studio based consumer show was discussed in depth, but eventually abandoned. After all, creative integrity is the lifeblood of these selfless angels of the small screen, who work tirelessly to ensure we don’t squander our hard-earned during our flight from the factory and the call-centre for two warm and blessed weeks of the year.

It’s a shame that the Rip Off budget didn’t extend to flying, oh I don’t know, an actual, real life consumer expert out to the sun-drenched Canaries; but in the final equation, those short introductory monologues are so much more important than any expert’s sound, dependable, and hard-earned knowledge.

It’s good to know that the BBC has its priorities straight. By ring-fencing the frivolous jollies of overpaid presenters in these increasingly turbulent and uncertain times, the beeb reminds us of what’s really important…to the BBC.

Thanks, Auntie. Just how would we manage without your wise guidance?

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net