Shock, horror, scandal – some employees in public service earn a lot of money.

The UK media (and politicians) are full of hard facts.

  • x civil servants earn more than the prime minister – but the one wants to run the country according to their political ideology and the others are professionals at the culmination of their careers
  • y council chief executives are on £150,000 or more – but check out what university principals leading much smaller organisations earn and seek an honest answer from councils about how many appointable applicants they get when a CE’s job falls vacant (the answer’s surprisingly few)
  • z health service managers are on £100k plus – but ask what consultants and even GPs really earn all-in
  • and so on

Now here’s a funny thing.  Today’s Sunday Observer newspaper has several articles touching on pay.

The first is their media column.  It reveals that the British Daily Mail newspaper runs a very successful web site.  The columnist does some sums to demonstrate that it probably makes a profit (access to the site is free as it is to the Guardian/Observer’s sites and they are keen to prove that the Murdoch News International model of charging for access is un-necessary).

In doing his sums the author calculates that the average cost of the Mail’s web site 24 staff is £100,000 a year.  Average £100,000 – even with oncosts – for recycling material from the print version of the paper?  It starts to make the average public servant look a positive bargain.

In another titbit in the same column, about the appointment of some person called Piers Morgan to a CNN job in the States, a throw away comment is made that the English Daily Mirror editor earns £1,680,000 a year.  Again, makes the BBC’s head honcho’s c. £800,000 look a snip.

And, oh yes, a headline elsewhere in the same Observer – “City banks put £5bn aside for staff bonuses”.

How much people should earn is a challenging question and I’m no expert (and incidentally have never earned at the levels quoted above).  But two factors make me sure that the issue deserves more serious consideration than the political jibes and cheap headlines – 

  • the private sector comparisons I cite above
  • the answer to the slightly long-winded but important questions “What is a decent wage to pay a basic grade professional (teacher, nurse, engineer, whatever)?  What increment do you need to get people to take the responsibility of managing a group of them, and so on until you reach the minimum number of layers of management and leadership an organisation needs to function effectively?”

Elsewhere in the paper there’s notice that the government’s public sector pay review (said to be going live later this week) being chaired by Will Hutton of the Work Foundation is seeking evidence – so that is at least some more serious consideration.  I think I might be sharpening my pencil…