Amol Rajan: One bonus that would have offered value for money

FreeView from the editors at i

Share
Related Topics

Justine Greening, the ambitious Transport minister, said over the weekend that she would turn up at a specially convened meeting of Network Rail's board this Friday, to register a protest vote against the £20m bonus pool its executives had threatened to award themselves.

Ms Greening's would have been only one of 80 votes cast, and non-binding. What particularly irked her, and her masters in government, was the proposed £340,000 bonus to be awarded to Network Rail's Australian chief executive, Sir David Higgins, on top of his £560,000 basic salary.

The threat of Ms Greening's arrival at Network Rail's offices in King's Cross clearly spooked the company, because yesterday they decided to abandon their bonuses after all. Like with Stephen Hester, the RBS boss who gave up his bonus, this victory for social stigma is in the public interest. But on reading the news yesterday, I felt an alarming degree of sympathy for Sir David.

When I had sporadic dealings with him, in his former capacity as chief executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority, and mine as sports news correspondent for The Independent, Sir David was an extremely impressive figure. (He wouldn't now recognise me on the street). Calm, erudite, and charming, he braved the howls of protest over the budget for London 2012, and delivered the construction phase ahead of time and well below budget, saving the taxpayer billions.

The row over his bonus is a distraction not only from his competence as a CEO, but the wisdom he has shown, and continues to show, in relation to both London 2012 and our rail network. In yesterday's Financial Times he warned of a black swan this summer – an unforeseen, highly improbable event that has a huge impact.

Whether transport failures, terrorist attacks, or something else, the unforeseeable is bound to take place. Sir David, pictured, pointed out that the success of Games will not be defined by those black swans, but by the authorities' reaction to them. He also spoke sense on rail. For a couple of decades, before and after privatisation, "we took a holiday on renewing our train tracks", he says.

Getting our trains to European standards "requires 30 years of continuous investment". For all the outrage over fare prices, they are rising because the Government "is moving the subsidy split from the taxpayer to the passenger, and that is only fair". All this is true.

Network Rail is a curious organisation, both state-subsidised and funded by government-backed borrowing. To that degree it is right that its top executives forego their bonuses. But companies must be allowed to attract the brightest talent. The curiosity of Sir David's case is that, if it were the price we had to pay to make sure he served a public interest rather than a private one, that bonus would have been a price worth paying.

 

React Now

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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I’m not sure I fancy any meal that’s been cooked up by a computer

John Walsh
Labour leader Ed Miliband delivers a speech on his party's plans for the NHS, in Sale, on Tuesday  

Why is Miliband fixating on the NHS when he’d be better off focussing on the wealth gap?

Andreas Whittam Smith
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness