James Moore: Sir Philip Hampton aspires to apply the common touch, but facts don't lie

Outlook It seems that Sir Philip Hampton wants us to think of him as a voice of sanity in the City. In a debate at the High Pay Centre, he described a conversation with a banker furious at his £4m package when a rival in a similar role at another bank received £6m. It felt, he said, "like an out of body experience".

Sir Philip said he could understand the intellectual basis behind the banker's arguments, but the feeling behind them? Not so much.

We've been here before with Sir Philip, a clever man, who is far more cognisant of the public's views on the issue of top pay than most of his colleagues. He has previously gone so far as to talk of bankers "creaming it" at the expense of shareholders.

And, to be far, he has put his money where his mouth is by giving up his own bonuses.

He's one of the good guys then? Only up to a point.

Sir Philip knows a thing or two about bonuses and bankers because he is one, having worked as an M&A banker at Lazard. He has also served as finance director at British Steel, British Gas, BG Group, British Telecom and Lloyds TSB, none of which ever knowingly underpaid their senior executives.

And with a £750,000 basic from chairing RBS, he's not exactly going short, even if that sum is modest compared with what fellow bank chairmen (they're all men) make.

It may also be worth pointing out that Sir Philip – to some consternation – took on a second job in 2009, at the mining group Anglo American. As part of this part-time role – good for nearly £100,000 – he chairs the remuneration committee.

This is the same Anglo American that, according to Bloomberg, paid Cynthia Carroll, its former chief executive, not £4m, not even £6m, but £8m in 2011 when all the bits and bobs, pension contributions, share scheme and so on were added up. It was a bit less, £3.2m, in 2012, but she'll probably just about manage.

It isn't only in banking where rewards have got completely out of kilter. It happens across the senior levels of Britain's public companies, often regardless of whether the people attaining most exalted class – there is a certain point when rewards make a dramatic leap from the comfortably substantial to the out-and-out silly – are any good or not.

Whatever Sir Philip might say, he is an important part of a system that has allowed this to come about. And his position at Anglo suggests he might not be doing quite as much to bring sanity to the process of pay setting as he would like to have us believe.

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