Pay the going rate or see the talent going

My Grandad was a man of few words, but he did once tell me a story which has stuck with me, and which came to mind when I was watching last night’s Panorama piece on public sector pay.  If you’ll bear with me I’ll relay that story here and hopefully it’ll help illustrate a point.

He had a car back in the day when people could still repair them without the aid of a degree in computer programming, but when it broke down once he was flummoxed.  In the end he called out a repair man, who duly turned up with toolbox in hand and took a look under the bonnet.  Without a word he reached into his toolbox, pulled out a screwdriver and tightened a screw – within seconds the engine roared into life.

He then handed my Grandad the bill – £30 (and that was in the day when £30 was a lot of money).  Incensed, good old Grandad demanded to know why on earth he should pay that amount of money when all he’d seen was a single screw turned.  The answer came back that he was only being charged £1 to have the screw turned; he was being charged £29 for the mechanic knowing which screw to turn.

What on earth has this to do with public spending and Panorama I can almost hear you ask?

Well, in case you missed it the show took a look at several top earners in the public sector, revealing how much they took home and how that compared to the salary of the Prime Minister.  Needless to say, there are loads of people out there earning an awful lot more (to find out just how many you can visit the Panorama website).

This was a fact that outraged many members of the public, who felt that the PM should be the top earner whatever else people did – he’s the boss after all.  Except, well, he isn’t.

Yes he leads the Government and has the ability to scrutinise just about everything in the public sector, and yes he leads the way when deciding on policy direction for the country.  But what he does not do is put the policy direction into detailed practice.  He does not decide exactly how the decisions he makes will be implemented by various departments or organisations – that is the job for others who are better suited to doing so; in effect, he tells them that he wants the engine running in a certain way and trusts them to know what screw to turn in order to do so.

If a public sector worker gets paid a lot of money to do a job, so what?  Times are tough, but in my mind that is a more important time than ever to ensure that the people most qualified to deliver the change and work needed are going to be attracted to those jobs.  Realistically, even though they are handsomely remunerated in comparison to those at the coal face they are still earning significantly less than they would in the private sector, and often take a pay cut to enter those roles.

As a football fan it’s the equivalent of saying that no-one can earn more than the manager; how many football clubs would survive if that were the case?  Yes, they make the overall decisions on team direction and strategy, but it’s the players on the pitch who put that theory into practice and have the technical skills and expertise required to do so.  If the going rate means they get paid a certain amount, assuming that this can be afforded then so be it.  If they aren’t paid then they are poached by bigger clubs from different leagues who will pay for their skills, the equivalent of the private sector poaching from their public counterparts.

I for one get tired of the constant public scrutiny and petty point scoring over people’s salaries.  As long as they are earning their money and performing the duties required of them, let them get paid what they need to be paid to get them and keep them.  Whilst the private sector usually poaches the very best and brightest, I want to see at least a few doing their bit for the country rather than the company.

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7 Comments on “Pay the going rate or see the talent going”

  1. localgov Says:

    Am I alone in thinking that we should always strive to pay what people are worth, or should we be expecting people to make do with a basic, low salary whatever the requirements of their role as long as we can make them feel warm and fuzzy about making a real difference to people’s lives?

  2. […] Link: Pay the going rate or see the talent going « We Love Local Government […]

  3. […] We Love Local Government A blog looking sideways at life in local government « Pay the going rate or see the talent going […]

  4. localgovaswell Says:

    The football analogy is good. The other point people miss is that we are always comparing the wrong people.

    The Prime Minister is comparable to senior elected politicians in Local Government (Council Leaders etc) and in turn should be compared to Chairmen of the Board in the Private Sector.

    The Chief Officers in Local Government (whose pay gets mercilessly analysed) are comparable to the senior civil servants (how much does Sir Gus O’Donnell get paid? A lot more than Mr Cameron is an understatement) in the public sector or the CEOs in the private sector.

    Again, the difference is between the direction setters and the doers. In all three cases (central govt, local govt and the private sector) the CEOs get paid more…

    I’m not sure if Panorama covered this but I’d like to bet that they didn’t!

  5. Really enjoyed this post.

    The thrust for more transparency will throw up some interesting boundary issues. For example, why shouldn’t private sector organisations also disclosed senior staff pay when their business is wholely dependent on public sector contracts? Commercial confidentiality will be argument there but it will be an assertion of form over substance.


  6. […] one of our dear readers has done. It’s a nice way to end a week which has looked in particular at public sector pay, and whilst it’s not exactly about local government it is interesting that the story doesn’t […]

  7. […] and we’ve been attacked by the media on a regular basis.  Whether it’s Panorama making comparisons with the pay of the PM, Channel 4 on sickness levels, the TPA on senior staff or ITV just having a go at us for, well, […]

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