There were two articles in The Sun the other day on public sector pay. One was headed ‘£240k boss search axed’ and was a reference to the fact that the Government has vetoed the proposed salary package for a new Chief Executive of the Audit Commission.
The other much more substantial article was over the LGA’s search for a Director of Communications on £124,000 a year.
(As someone who receives a shilling or two from both organisations I must declare an interest.)
Meanwhile Nick Clegg has been applauded by the Daily Mail for his comments on public sector pensions, calling them ‘gold-plated’ and ‘unfair and unaffordable’.
The standard comparison when it comes to public sector pay is with the salary of the Prime Minister. In the case of the Audit Commission this was debunked on the BBC by leading private sector accountancy commentator Emile Woolf.
“Woolf: ‘I would have thought that the £240,000 package was on the low side for the responsibility he has.’
Eddie Mair from the BBC – ‘But if the most important person in the country (Prime Minister) can scrape by on £160,000, why not the head of the Audit Commission?’
Emile Woolf – ‘The PM enters into public life knowing he is not doing it for the money.’”
In fact Prime Ministers often end up as rich as Croesus after leaving office and it is usual for those making comparisons to ignore (as Mair did on the BBC) Cameron’s salary as an MP and the benefits in kind provided in the form of two sets of free accommodation.
The comparison made this week by The Sun is altogether more challenging. That paper claimed (but I cannot vouch for the figures) that the commander of British forces in Afghanistan earns just £109,000.
So what can the justification be for the six figure salary for a Director of Communications? The only answer must be: the market. But labour markets are notoriously uncompetitive, not least because of employment laws.
Perhaps the rule in both public and private sectors needs to be that if you have a high salary you are expected to perform. If there is no performance then you go.
And public sector pensions? The typical council employee pension is less than £5,000 a year.
Bluntly politicians and the press are hitting the wrong targets. We have much more reason to be angry about the salary paid to the CEO of BP and even more so about the bonuses paid now and in the past to the bankers who set about destroying our economy.
It is because of these people, so far relatively unscathed, that we have to worry about the public sector pay bill.
The little people (using BP’s terminology) continue to give sterling public service for which they are often paid a pittance.
Cllr Chris White is Hertfordshire County Councillor for St. Albans Central and
St. Albans City & District Councillor for Clarence
He is also a member of the ALDC Management Committee
This article was first published on Liberal Democrat Voice