Monday 20 September 2010

Sharing out the rewards

I’m not sure that I’m really terribly worried about the fact that there are thousands of people in the public sector paid more than the Prime Minister. Superficially it may seem odd that there should be any, but it’s nothing new; senior civil servants have long been paid more than their political bosses.

It’s very often the people working in our public services, rather than the politicians, who have the real expertise. Although there are politicians who have detailed knowledge and expertise in a range of fields, the only formal ‘qualification’ that they need is the ability to persuade people to vote for them. Or perhaps more accurately, get themselves selected where people are going to vote for their party anyway.

I don’t see anything intrinsically wrong with paying experts more than politicians; so the real question for me isn’t how many people are being paid more than the PM, it’s whether they have the relevant expertise and skill to justify their rewards.

The element of the story which interested me more was the comments by Francis Maude. He said that it should not be necessary to offer "stupendous amounts" of money in the public sector, and went on to add:

"You can square the circle of having really good people not on telephone number salaries and massive built-in bonuses. That public service ethos is very important. People will come and work in a public sector for salaries that aren't competitive in a private sector sense."

Up to a point, I agree with him. People who are committed to the ethos of the organisations for which they work, or the services which they are providing, will not necessarily be forever seeking the highest possible level of personal rewards. But what does that say about the private sector?

Are the high rewards of some therefore correspondingly justified by their lack of commitment to what they are doing? Is it right that the highest rewards go to those who place their own personal acquisitiveness above the wider needs of society?

Maude seems to be saying that the most selfless amongst the most able should reap the lowest rewards, whilst the highest rewards go to the most selfish, even if, in pursuit of their own interests, their actions are directly detrimental to the interests of the majority.

At its heart, it's a statement of an ideological position about the nature of human society, where resources are distributed on the basis of competition, but it doesn’t fit my own view of what attributes ought to attract reward. And it is certainly not an approach based on any evaluation of the contribution people make.


Anonymous said...

And of course following Francis Maude's argument to its logical conclusion, he would surely support a policy of paying elected representatives no more than the average national wage...wouldn't he?

Unknown said...

I think it is an indication of how badly paid our politicians are! It means that only the mediocre, or the independently rich (like the present government) really aspire to the upper echelons of politics in the UK.

The answer is to increase the pay of politicians by at least 300%, so that the profession will attract the brightest and the best!

John Dixon said...


1. I'm not convinced that increasing the pay would necessarily increase the brightest and the best.

2. I'm absolutely convinced that increasing the pay would neither deter nor prevent those who are neither the brightest nor the best from being elected.

So the most likely outcome of a huge pay hike would simply be to inflate the wages of those already in place, wouldn't it?