The love of money has corrupted our idea of public service

What happened to the idea that a job could be ill-paid but still satisfying?


Imagine for a moment that you are a senior executive in a publicly-owned organisation. You have a tough job and are acceptably paid for what you do to the tune of £267,000 a year. During a business trip abroad, you buy a soft drink for £3.15. Do you a) decide that you can afford it and that to keep the receipt and claim for it is a waste of everyone’s time: or b) put it on expenses?

Now you have another job in the same corporation. You are a senior manager on a salary of almost £208,000, and yet you have always had a niggling personal ambition to set up your own cafe business. Do you a) decide that one job is quite enough, or b) multitask, and do both.

Your final job is one of huge responsibility: you are in charge of the organisation’s creative output. You are paid £183,000 and, being over 65, you have access to a pension pot of around £2.8m. One of the projects commissioned by your department is actually produced and presented by yourself in a personal capacity. Do you a) decide that, since all three sources of income come from the public purse, you should be open about what your are paid for the third job, or b) argue professional confidentiality and keep your head down?

Most sane and intelligent readers of this newspaper would, we can assume, tick the a) box in each of these cases. Yet a significant number of sane and intelligent BBC managers – these three examples, John Tate, Lisa Opie and Alan Yentob, were part of a wider pattern – cheerfully opted for b) and followed the course of mild self-interest.

The behaviour of individual managers is rather more revealing than the bigger picture. After all, we have known for some time that a deadly virus of morally blinkered greed had entered the senior echelons of the BBC – it is no longer even a surprise to hear a former director-general explain with a straight face that a senior executive needed an extra £500,000 in his pay-off so that he would remain “focused” in his final months.

Claims for expenses, moonlighting with a second job and failing to declare remuneration are different. Each represents a personal, private decision.

Something peculiar has happened to the attitudes of those in public life towards money. Until quite recently, it was understood, if rarely articulated, that if you were fortunate enough to have an interesting, powerful job in a sector which did not generate huge profits, you would be less well-paid than someone in the drearier, more lucrative private sector.

Doctors, broadcasters, politicians, booksellers and teachers made choices which reflected both a personal preference and a small degree of morality. Today, there are millions of people who have made a similar decision: writers, painters, designers, or those working for charities, arts centres, citizen radio, online groups. They have concluded, rightly, that a satisfying job, even if it is ill-paid, will bring more fulfilment than a larger salary, miserably gained.

For all the rows surrounding their expenses, MPs have followed that model, and are now paid less than the head teacher of comprehensive, and at the low end of what a BBC editor or producer earns.

Yet for others, public service should now be rewarded at private rates. Away from depressing stories about the BBC, The Sunday Times reported that some senior doctors are claiming more that £150,000 a year for overtime in addition to their generous salaries. Senior executives on local councils behave similarly.

It is more than a question of morality. Those in public life who keep one beady eye on their own personal rewards and advantage are unlikely to be doing their job well. The problem is not, to borrow Michael Grade’s phrase, that they lack an understanding of the value of money but that they have lost sight of values which are altogether more important.

Why didn’t the actor cross the road? 

The autobiography of Derek Jacobi, As Luck Would Have It, sounds like a treat for lovers of theatrical memoirs. It includes the slightly surprising revelation that its author was on a shortlist of three for the part of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. The other two contenders were Anthony Hopkins and Daniel Day-Lewis, confirming the suspicion that Hollywood producers prefer their nutters and villains to be British.

The full terror of stage fright is also explored at some length. When Jacobi found himself unable to appear on stage for three years, he discovered that the same thing frequently happened to successful actors in the middle of their careers. Day-Lewis, playing Hamlet at the National, walked off the stage when he thought he had seen the ghost of his own father. Laurence Olivier suffered panic attacks and, when playing Shylock, asked Jacobi not to stare at him on stage for fear of bringing on a turn. Jacobi’s own symptoms extended beyond the theatre. At its worst, he claims, he was too terrified to cross a road.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'