Leading article: Genuine fairness means reform from top to bottom

Is there no longer such a thing as public sector ethos; if not, might it not be time to bring it back?

Share
Related Topics

Persuading poachers to turn gamekeepers has been one of the Prime Minister's signature tactics in selecting people to conduct independent policy reviews. The former Labour Cabinet minister John Hutton was invited to lead the Public Sector Pensions Review, while Will Hutton, chairman of The Work Foundation and a vociferous critic of the right, was assigned the Fair Pay Review. Such appointments made sense: how better to inspire credibility in the results than by entrusting the task to someone who is clearly not identified with Conservative, or even Coalition, thinking?

It is still early days, and the document published by the Fair Pay Review yesterday is only its interim report. Nonetheless, it comes as something of a disappointment. Its bottom line is that, as a rule, the best-paid individuals in the public sector should normally receive no more than 20 times more than the lowest paid employees. Anything more than that, and the organisation should have to justify its decision. Coincidence or not, the multiple of 20 is what David Cameron broached at the outset. So it is not unreasonable to ask whether a review was needed at all. Might a simple political decision have sufficed?

The Fair Pay Review, of course, has more to say for itself than this. Regrettably, though, it seems not to be as searching or radical as it might have been. If, say, the lowest-paid employees in a public-sector organisation were earning the minimum wage, the multiple of 20 would still allow the highest paid to receive an annual salary of £240,000 without additional explanations being required. That is, by any standards – except perhaps those of the finance sector – a great deal of money. And if the lowest paid earn more than the minimum wage, up to a modest £15,000 a year, for instance, that gives the green light to a top salary of £300,000. Even at this supposedly modest multiple, the differential from bottom to top remains vast.

One specific disappointment is the report's concentration on high, rather than low, pay. Setting a multiple of 20 as the future yardstick may be seen as a restraint on high pay, but it also offers a pretext for keeping low pay low, even though the effect may be to reduce the calibre of recruits and consign certain key public-sector jobs, such as hospital cleaners and care workers, to being the employment of last resort.

Another disappointment is how little difference the review's preliminary recommendations would make. Only very few public-sector executives are currently paid more than 20 times the lowest paid. To that extent the report seems to do little more than endorse the status quo. In his defence, Mr Hutton hinted that it should be seen as somehow pre-emptive, designed to prevent the "kind of arms race" in private-sector pay spreading to the public sector.

That is one way of looking at it. To a great extent, though, proliferation has already set in. Supposed competition with the private sector for outstanding individuals is routinely cited to justify these £200,000-plus salaries, even though such competition is by no means always evident. Nor should a further question be ducked, however unfashionable it might seem. Why, even when competition exists, is it taken for granted that top public-sector pay must approach, or match, levels in the private sector? Is there no longer such a thing as public-service ethos – and if not, might it not be time to bring it back?

There was a time when the mix of job security, conditions and pensions was deemed to offset generally lower pay in the public sector. That disparity in conditions largely remains – for all the likely job losses to come – while the pay gap has been all but eliminated. The Fair Pay Review, in its final version, needs to look beyond the pounds and the pence.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Support Worker

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A rewarding opportunity to work with an easy-...

Recruitment Genius: National Sales Account Executive

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company leads the market i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ice skating in George Square, Glasgow  

How many Christmas cards have you sent this year?

Simon Kelner
 

Al-Sweady Inquiry: An exercise in greed that blights the lives of brave soldiers

Richard Kemp
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum