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?

Share

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.

www.terenceblacker.com

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti
 

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent