Simon English: There's nothing to be lost by curbing executive pay
Thursday 19 January 2012
Outlook: A relaxed lunch in a nice boozer. In attendance: a banker from the old school. An angel investor. A PR man of the even older school. An entrepreneur who has just sold a business he built from scratch for tens of millions of pounds with the aid of the others.
Wine flows. Lips loosen. The political views on display go right across the spectrum from just to the right of David Cameron (the entrepreneur) to several yards to the right of Attila the Hun (the PR man).
The issue that unites them in fury? Executive pay. Folk whose general view is that government interference is almost never the answer want action taken on this. They are sick of the rewards given to scheming bankers and so-so chief executives.
The City and wider corporate life, places in which they have spent their whole lives, now just look like a space for chancers to take it in turns to be lucky.
How can Sir Fred Goodwin still have that knighthood? Why don't the government just go and grab his (our) money off him?
I offer the idea, first mooted by my colleague Anthony Hilton, that bosses of large public companies should have one flat rate of pay.
Let's say running a FTSE 100 company pays £2m a year. No bells, no whistles, that's it. The notion that 100 talented people couldn't be found to work at that rate is absurd. Executives who think they need or deserve more than that are welcome to try their luck as genuine entrepreneurs.
More wine is taken. And the idea is pronounced at least reasonable.
The point is that Mr Cameron could be much bolder on this issue than he is presently being. He may fear he'd alienate his core support, but in fact they'd welcome it. There may never be a better opportunity to strike. For what is he waiting?
Back to Mr Martin, who said the other day that he doubted the Prime Minister and his Chancellor cared less about pubs' battle for survival. They prefer dinner parties, he mused.
He's probably right about that and on one hand it hardly matters how Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne prefer to entertain themselves.
But you get the strong sense that they spend too much time hanging around with financial entrepreneurs as opposed to real ones.
Their crowd seems to include a lot of people that think it is normal to bank £5m for a semi-clever piece of speculative trading that involved no real work whatsoever.
If you think such sums are natural, it might be hard to get properly angry about executive pay.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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