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

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

IT Security Advisor – Permanent – Surrey - £60k-£70k

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

MI Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – £25k-£35k

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Geography Teacher

£100 - £160 per day + mileage and expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: This out...

KS2 supply teacher

£80 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recruiting fo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Abortions based solely on gender are illegal in Britain  

Abortion is safe, and it should be as available as easily as contraception

Ann Furedi
Photo issued by Flinders University of an artist's impression of a Microbrachius dicki mating scene  

One look at us Scots is enough to show how it was our fishy ancestors who invented sex

Donald MacInnes
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album