Terence Blacker: Our overpaid and overrated public servants

Share
Related Topics

It is truly bizarre that as the economy spirals ever deeper into the red, one group of highly privileged men and women become increasingly wealthy from the public purse – and no one seems to give a damn. MPs may be vilified, bankers may be pariahs, but the fact that senior civil servants can see their already large wages galloping ahead of inflation is treated as if it were an immutable law of nature.

To get the best managers, we are told again and again, the market rate needs to be paid. As a result, the same faintly obscene process of overpayment can be found in every area of public life. In the National Health Service, the drones and the middle managers may be suffering from the squeeze, but those at the top who manage them are doing very nicely.

It was revealed this week that NHS chief executives' salaries have doubled in the past decade, so that 25 of them now earn more than the Prime Minister's salary of £192,400. In 2007-8, senior salaries were increased by a distinctly healthy 6.4 per cent. What has been the reaction to the current financial crisis? An even larger increase. This year the rise will be 6.9 per cent.

Embarrassed by a similar trend in the police force, the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, Sir Norman Bettison, daringly suggested that his current salary and bonuses – £213,000 – is rather too much. Across at the BBC, those on the accelerating gravy train are doing even better under the command of Mark (£834,000) Thompson.

Paying senior civil servants as if they worked in the private sector has become part of the way Britain governs itself. In councils, according to a survey by the Taxpayers' Alliance, the number of staff earning more than £100,000 has risen by 14 per cent over the past year to 1,250. Those at the top can expect to earn up to £365,000.

The unquestioned acceptance of a market-led, bonus-rich, capitalist culture at the heart of public life is in its way more harmful than the avarice of bankers or the chiselling of MPs. Those who work in private business and finance are playing a game of high risk; the same can hardly be said for the cosseted senior technocrats whose wages are paid by the taxpayer.

Systematic over-rewarding of senior management is the ugly bastard child of Thatcherism and Blairism. Recruiting the managing director of a successful company in the hope that, like an expensive footballer bought on the transfer market, he would transform the whole team was an idea which brought together Tory privatisation and New Labour's belief in competitiveness and league tables.

Have these highly-paid men and women, and their belief in the market, actually made public life more efficient and effective? Certainly, the idea of leadership has been eroded – if the boss is motivated by money, why should staff be expected to be public spirited? Sir Norman spelt out the obvious this week, saying that good management in the state sector involves an ability to "secure long-term public value and a vision for their staff, not some mercenary performance manager peddling a short-term fix".

Perhaps this is more a moral problem than a financial one. Allowing the law of the market (better known as greed) to be the prevailing management force in education, health, policing, government and broadcasting ends by contaminating public life itself.

Even feminists can kiss and tell

If ever the Literary Review considers adding a non-fiction category to its Bad Sex Awards, there will be hot competition among literary memoirists of a certain age. Those famous personalities who had a busy personal life in the late 1960s and 1970s seem peculiarly eager as they grow old to share their erotic memories with a wider public. Not so long ago, Christopher Hitchens claimed to have slept with a couple of future Tory ministers while at Oxford. Now Germaine Greer has written a heartfelt account of an affair with Federico Fellini in 1975. It was a hot day in Rome when she was invited to the Cinecittà Studios – so hot that when she arrived "my flimsy dress was stuck to my otherwise naked body".

Fellini, you may not be entirely surprised to learn, was captivated. He asked Greer to work on the film and, when he came to dinner with her, "there was never any question of his sleeping anywhere but in the big bed with me". He had brought his brown pyjamas with cream piping, disliked sleeping with the windows open and called his wife every two hours or so. In the middle of the night, a bat flying around the room scared him. "Fellini was a many-sided genius," Greer concludes. "I do not hope to meet his like again."

Here are rich pickings for historians. Cinéastes will be fascinated by the great director's brown pyjamas with cream piping and his bat phobia. In Women's Studies faculties, the fact that a great feminist hero went to work on a film while not wearing any underwear will be earnestly discussed, as perhaps will her lack of sisterly solidarity towards Mrs Fellini.

Young readers will particularly enjoy these ancient kiss-and-tell accounts, rather as a previous generation listened to war stories.

Strange goings-on down on the wind farm

There has always been something faintly mysterious about the Ministry of Defence's attitude to wind farms. One moment, it was arguing the 400ft turbines posed such a problem for military radar that it was obliged to object to several developments in England and Scotland. The next, objections were withdrawn.

Had some great technological advance taken place or – rather more likely, some might say – had pressure been applied by central government? The news that Lord Chilcot, chairman of the Iraq war inquiry, has successfully lobbied the MoD on behalf of Northern British Windpower, a firm in which he is a director, has helped to clarify the way these things work.

After the ministry objected to an enormous and potentially profitable Scottish development, three of its officials were invited to meet Chilcot and two of his senior colleagues. With His Lordship providing what was described as "a fresh perspective", the MoD later withdrew its objections subject to North British Windpower providing a technical solution to the radar problem. Working in its own quiet way, the Establishment can be rather effective.

React Now

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

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mary Christmas: the Bethlehem story is Mary's moment, when a poor peasant girl gives birth to the Son of God in a stable  

The appeal of the Virgin Mary: A supernatural hope at a time of scepticism

Peter Stanford
 

Letters: Why Cameron is wrong about EU child benefits

Independent Voices
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'