Editor-At-Large: Time to shake our civil servants from their feather beds

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Twenty thousand people received their P45s last week and the predicted figure for unemployment is two million by Christmas. You can bet that virtually none will be public servants.

We live in a divided society. One lot has protected pensions, guaranteed bonuses and generous redundancy pay. The rest work in the private sector, where market forces dictate an uncertain future. From construction workers to car builders, graphic designers to shopfitters, the downturn is hitting a wide swathe of people with very different skills. The chances of finding new jobs in the next six months will be slim, with the majority surviving on savings, credit cards and benefits.

Consider some shocking statistics: private-sector workers pay way more in tax every year – £21bn – than they save in pensions, and those taxes are used to prop up the comfy pension schemes of the huge army of public sector workers that has grown like Topsy under Labour. In a recession, the best employer is clearly the government. The average public sector worker retires with a pension pot of £427,000, which produces an income of more than £17,000 a year. Private workers end up with a pitiful £25,100 on average, yielding just £1,700 annually – hardly enough to heat a home. And, just to rub salt into the wound, in 2006 Gordon Brown taxed private pension schemes over a certain level, reducing the incentive to save even when there was more cash around.

Public workers at executive level live feather-bedded existences. Look at the remuneration packages offered in local government and in the NHS. How can they be justified? The salaries for senior NHS managers has almost trebled in the past three years, with the chief executive receiving increases which ranged between 7.5 per cent and 12.8 per cent one year and 26 per cent and 32 per cent the next. Nurses, however, had to be content with just 1.9 per cent.

Many public service executives receive performance-related bonuses, no matter how poorly they seem to carry out their jobs. The NHS ranks a pathetic 13th in the EU table of standards of health care, two places below Estonia, which spends a quarter of what we do. Please let me know if you hear of any public sector boss who voluntarily takes a pay cut or gives up bonuses and pensions if their organisation performs badly. How about the big cheeses at the London borough of Haringey, for starters?

MPs? Forget it – they only sit for a fraction of the year, but God forbid they give up their expenses or reduce their pensions. The BBC is scaling back its Christmas parties. While director-general Mark Thompson has given up his bonus, his salary still exceeds £800,000. The Tax Payers' Alliance found that more than 10,500 NHS managers have retired with pension pots of more than £1m, as have 3,680 civil servants and 815 judges. Parliament and the BBC refused to divulge these details.

The banking sector has performed disastrously, and you might think that when Gordon Brown decided to inject £37bn of public money to save HBOS/Lloyds TSB, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Northern Rock and Bradford and Bingley, we'd see strict conditions to ensure it is not squandered. Forget it. The company set up to monitor the Government's stake, UK Financial Investments, will have no seats on the boards, and non-executive directors will not have to report to them, proving beyond doubt there's one set of rules for ordinary people and another for Gordon's pals.

In praise of peculiar parsnips

Good news. The EU has relented, and relaxed ludicrous rules dictating acceptable sizes and shapes for 26 varieties of fruit and vegetables. Supermarkets will now have no excuse not to sell knobbly carrots, bendy cucumbers and forked parsnips.

It means tons of food will no longer go to waste, and shops will be able to offer the less attractive produce at a discount, hopefully encouraging us to eat our five portions of fruit and veg every day.

Sadly, some people won't be taking advantage of these cheaper vegetables. A survey has found that one in 10 think jaffa cakes, cola, spaghetti hoops, orange squash and fruit-flavoured sweets all count as part of their five a day. Are these the same people that the Government wants to reward for walking their kids to school?

Let's make our yobs drink-savvy

There's been criticism of plans to deal with those convicted of being drunk and disorderly by sending them on courses to discuss the link between excessive alcohol consumption and antisocial behaviour. The scheme is already being trialled in some parts of Britain.

It sounds like an excellent idea. There's no point in fining yobs, sending them to prison or dishing out community service without dealing with the root cause of why they are trashing themselves. Education is a key part of sensible drinking. Young people need to be told their behaviour is unacceptable and have the damage they are doing to their health explained.

Motorists who exceed speed limits by small margins are already able to attend a speed awareness course. What's different about treating drinkers in the same way?

Dieting The more we see of Cheryl, the less there is to see

Talk about stating the obvious. After studying 350,000 people in nine countries, experts claim the bigger your waist, the more likely your life is to be shorter than that of someone who is skinny round the middle.

I thought about that a lot when I went out shopping for jeans last week. My "easy fit" (in other words, baggy) pair appeared to have shrunk in the wash since I broke my ankle a couple of months ago. It's more likely though that the fit is no longer "easy", but "over-snug", because my waistline has expanded a little through inactivity. However, the bloke in the men's department at Selfridges reassuringly told me I was not right at the chubby end of the range on offer.

Now I am more worried about germs than I am about an early grave: I was instructed to wash my new designer jeans only once a month to preserve their perfect cut and colour.

Meanwhile, if I see another picture of Cheryl Cole looking like a Barbie doll, a fraction of the size she was in those WAG jeans at the World Cup in Germany two years ago, I'll puke. She's clearly got at least a century of telly stardom ahead.