Monday, 4 September 2017

Agreeing with the Tories

Last week, the Tories in the Assembly returned to one of their all-time favourite themes – high salaries in the public sector.  This time, it was the health service which was the subject of their ire, and they seem to have a particular fixation about any salaries which are higher than that of the Prime Minister.  The Labour government responded in the traditional manner of those who support paying high salaries, talking about the need to ‘attract the best’ to fill the top jobs.  In some ways, this is almost the reverse of the position one would expect the two parties to take.  Traditionally, Labour would oppose high salaries, and the Tories would talk about needing to attract the best. 
I can understand that, for someone who genuinely believes that high salaries attract the best candidates rather than simply the greediest, capping those salaries at an arbitrary level (‘the salary of the Prime Minister’) would be a damaging interference in the employment market, and would lead to the people in the top jobs being sub-optimal for the performance of the relevant organisation.  It follows that the Tories cannot believe that the way to attract the best people is to allow market forces to operate (although I accept that that statement does discount the possibility that they might actually not want the best people to run public services anyway – but they couldn’t really want those services to fail, could they?).  And the reaction of the Welsh government suggests that Labour really do believe that paying higher salaries attracts better candidates, and that good talented people cannot be found at a lower price.
The good news in all this is that I’ve finally found an issue of principle on which I can agree with the Tories and disagree with Labour – I really don’t believe that there is a direct relationship between how much someone is paid and how good they are at their job.  When it comes to salaries of top earners, there is a distorted market in operation in which a self-perpetuating group of rent-seekers push salaries ever higher to serve, ultimately, their own best interests.  What I don’t understand, however, is how it’s possible to believe one thing in relation to the public sector whilst believing that the complete opposite rule applies in the private sector.  So perhaps I don’t agree with the Tories very much after all.

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