What recession? Top bosses' pay rockets

Executive pay rises by 8.5% to average of £3m – as everyone else's goes down

The pay of Britain's top company bosses has soared still higher, rising by more than five times that of ordinary workers, who have seen a decline in wages in real terms.

The total pay package for the typical FTSE 100 chief executive hit £3m for the first time in 2011 – an average rise of 8.5 per cent – despite it being a brutal year for investors.

The average pay rise for workers nationally was 1.6 per cent, less than half the pace of inflation, placing pressure on household disposable incomes and endangering growth prospects. The Chancellor, George Osborne, faces calls from businesses and the City to draw up a new growth plan when he returns from his summer holiday, and to reverse the Government's hard line on deficit reduction.

To add to investors' grievances, the FTSE 100 fell 6.5 per cent during 2011, leaving them considerably worse off than chief executives. The new research will add to the anger at boardroom pay that exploded earlier this year in the "shareholder spring" – the most febrile season of company AGMs in memory, with investors heckling directors and voting down their bonus packages. The scalps of three unloved bosses were claimed: at Britain's largest insurance company, Aviva, the drugs giant AstraZeneca and the publisher Trinity Mirror. Other firms to feel the heat included Barclays (the board was told it was "a disgrace to capitalism"), the advertising giant WPP, car dealer Pendragon, the miners Xstrata and Central Rand Gold, the oil explorer Cairn Energy, M&S, Premier Food and the hedge fund Man Group.

The escalating anger over boardroom pay prompted the Business Secretary Vince Cable to announce that the Government will legislate to give shareholders binding votes on block executive pay rises.

Executive pay did not rise as fast last year as it did in 2010 – when the rise was reported at 23 per cent in the equivalent research by Income Data Services – primarily because some chief executives saw their bonuses frozen or canned. The researchers attributed this to companies beginning to realise that their pay rises would not be stomached.

Annual bonuses actually fell 2 per cent in 2011 to an average of £669,00 across all FTSE executive directors. The fall can be attributed in part to bankers such as Barclays' Bob Diamond and Stephen Hester of RBS who were encouraged to give up their bonuses. The largest pay rises included substantial share awards to Phil Cox at International Power and the former boss of the chemicals giant Croda, Mike Humphrey.

Deborah Hargreaves, chair of the High Pay Centre, said: "This still means executive pay is rising faster than average wages. It's important to keep up the pressure to ensure that, at a time of severe austerity, bosses realise multimillion-pound pay awards are unsustainable."

Steve Tatton, editor of the IDS report, said: "Remuneration committee members have now realised that their decisions will be scrutinised very closely. Shareholders are demanding to know what they are paying for."

Union bosses railed against pay rises that they were said were disproportionate to performance. The Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: "Executive pay is still outstripping the pay of ordinary workers who are struggling to keep up with rising prices. There is still massive inequality between workers and their bosses. Pay cuts and freezes for hard-working families are pushing many working people into the clutches of payday lenders."

The TUC general secretary Brendan Barber added: "FTSE directors are still getting pay rises that the rest of their staff could only dream about. The gap between the very top and everyone else was a key cause of the recession, but no one seems prepared to tackle it."

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