Mark Thompson, the former head of the BBC, has issued an apology for the failure of the Corporation's Digital Media Initiative (DMI). Speaking on Monday at the Commons Public Accounts Committee about the disastrous scheme, which costs licence fee-payers' more than £100 million, the former boss admitted that DMI "failed as a project", adding that he "wanted to say sorry" for the waste of public money.
The scheme, which attempted to create an integrated digital production and archiving system, was scrapped by Tony Hall, the current director-general, after he took the job in November. Thompson told the Committee: "I don't believe I have misled you on any other matter and I don't believe I misled you knowingly on this one."
When confronted with last week's report by the National Audit Office (NAO), which was highly critical of the scheme, bemoaning Thompson for not having "sufficient grip" on project, the former chief said his previous evidence was "a faithful and accurate account of my understanding of the project at that point".
The DMI project was set up by the BBC in an effort to allow staff to have quick access to video and audio content from their desks, however after £125 million was ploughed into the IT scheme, it remained beset by difficulties. Having incurred a net costs of £98 million, John Linwood, the Chief Technology Officer, who drew a salary of £280,00, was suspended over it failure last May.
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Linwood said Hall had been too hasty in writing off "tens of millions" of pounds of investment in IT. He told the committee: "They wrote off software that was working and they wrote off infrastructure that was working. They were written off because the business decided not to use them." MPs also asked Caroline Thomson, the BBC's former chief operating officer, about her pay-off, which saw her leave the corporation with around £700,000 and a £2 million pension pot.
Asked if she would return some of that money, she said: "No." She told the committee: "I was made redundant, I was made redundant, I didn't want to be made redundant. I wanted to stay and work. I was paid a lot of money, I completely accept that, but it was my contractual entitlement and no more."
Asked to justify her pay, Ms Thomson said: "I did a very big responsible job, I could have earned a lot more if I was working for ITV."
Defending what he said about DMI in February 2011, Mr Thompson said: "I'm absolutely clear that at the time that was what I knew about the project." Mr Thompson said he believed that "overall a lot of work and effort went in to get it to work on the business side". However, he said that the "language which the team were using" combined with reports the technology was being used on shows such as The One Show, led him to believe DMI was "being more extensively used" than it was.
Former BBC Trustee Anthony Fry said a decision to scrap a planned internal audit of DMI was "probably the wrong decision". He also said the Trust "did not have a sufficient knowledge around technology" to measure its progress, but said changing the BBC's governance system or bringing in the communications watchdog, Ofcom, would not have changed the outcome.
Discussing verbal briefings given to top executives about the DMI scheme, committee member Stewart Jackson told Mr Thompson: "There is a golden thread which runs through all our scrutiny of your time at the BBC which is, you didn't write anything down." Mr Thompson denied the charge, telling the committee: "That's not true, I've got an aching shoulder from the papers I've carried into this meeting."
He defended his time in the top job which he said was marked by successes including the digital switchover, the introduction of iPlayer and the Olympics. He said: "Don't please characterise this as a period when everything went badly." Fry admitted the trust had not been "intrusive enough" about the scheme, but defended Mr Hall's decision to write it off completely saying it was what would have happened in the private sector. He said: "This is exactly what a board of directors would do."
The BBC's director of operations Dominic Coles said a review of DMI in October 2012 "didn't find anything that had enduring value". He said the archive database that came out of DMI and was being used by some staff was "incredibly clunky" and "difficult to use". The committee heard the archive system costs £3 million a year to run - paid to IBM - and replaced a system that cost £780,000, which Coles said was "appalling value for money".
Coles said the BBC was looking at different options including bringing back the previous archive system that had been dumped in favour of the DMI archive. Ms Hodge said the BBC was "a jungle of bureaucracy" that was "almost beyond parody", adding there was also "some half-truths around the place and I do think the BBC does deserve better".