Leading article: Public servants – at a price

Share
Related Topics

Once upon a time there was an unspoken compact: workers in the public sector accepted generally lower pay than their private sector counterparts in return for greater job security and reliable, final-salary pensions. In at least one respect, that compact has now broken down.

As we report today, more than 1,000 town-hall staff now earn six-figure salaries, and more than a dozen are better paid than the Prime Minister. Plus they receive gold-plated pensions, protected against the vagaries of the stock market. Almost 20 per cent of authorities refused to divulge the information, so the figure could be higher. No wonder, you might say, MPs are unhappy with their lot, and are tempted to make up some of the difference with their expenses.

These figures raise some serious questions. And the first would be this: why does such information have to be solicited through the Freedom of Information Act by an organisation such as (in this case) the Taxpayers' Alliance? Why is it not available, as a matter of course, to everyone who pays council tax? The second would be: who sets these salaries, and who, if anyone, judges whether they are appropriate?

When similarly elevated pay levels are revealed in other parts of the public sector – in NHS management, for instance, or, most recently, university vice-chancellors – the argument is often heard, as it used to be in banking, that such rates had to be paid to attract the best people. Well, we saw what happened with those supposedly "best" people in charge of the banks. And with the local councils that invested municipal money in Iceland. And with Stafford General Hospital.

Elevated pay for poor, or undistinguished, performance gives the whole of the public sector a bad name. But, as trade unions justifiably emphasise, the majority of rank-and-file staff earn low salaries. Their pensions may be protected, but a fixed proportion of not very much is still not lavish. The top echelons are not representative of the service as a whole. But the ever wider disparity between top and bottom at some point becomes corrosive; it lowers morale inside the public sector and fires resentment outside. That point, we suggest, has been reached.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000

£34000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Bus...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - eCommerce - OTE £100k

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award-winning digital age...

Recruitment Genius: Training and Development Consultant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This software development organisation are loo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: We Are Not Syriza; and the riddle of an imitation Sphinx in China

John Rentoul
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both end winter fuel allowances for pensioners with enough income to pay the 40p tax rate  

Politicians court the grey vote because pensioners, unlike the young, vote

Andrew Grice
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable