View from City Road: Few defenders of executives' pay

Finding non-executive directors prepared to recommend huge salaries for company bosses is a piece of cake, if the growing number of pounds 1m- plus awards is anything to go by. Finding non-executive directors prepared to defend them is, however, rather more difficult.

As chairman of the Kingfisher remuneration committee, which just sanctioned a 36 per cent rise to pounds 1.1m for chairman Sir Geoff Mulcahy, Sir Nigel Mobbs, chairman of Slough Estates, seemed the perfect choice to interview on the subject of executive pay. Sir Nigel, however, felt his experience was too limited to the specific case of Kingfisher; on general corporate pay, he was the wrong man.

Fine, except that Sir Nigel also sits on the remuneration committee of Barclays, where the pounds 737,500-a-year contract for the new chief executive, Martin Taylor, and last year's pounds 1.4m package for BZW chief David Band has also been raising eyebrows.

He is also chairman of the Institute of Director's company affairs committee, which knows enough about the generality of corporate pay to be considering a report on the subject later this year. Sir Nigel, of course, is reluctant to pre-empt those discussions.

It is perhaps unfair to single out Sir Nigel for criticism; precious few others are prepared to speak out in defence of high salaries. Such universal reluctance reinforces the view that corporate boardrooms have become bastions of privilege and remuneration committees their tools - a self- serving facade, whose only purpose is to bid up executive salary levels generally. Non-executives who serve on them usually have an executive post elsewhere. If people like Sir Nigel can't defend these levels of pay, just who can? Is there anyone out there?