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.