I was intrigued by yesterday’s story that the Tories will save money by capping pay at the top of the public sector so that no-one earns more than 20 times the lowest paid. They also say they won’t fill vacancies in public sector back-office functions when they arise.
Apparently bosses at 10 of the companies supporting the Tory plans for NI would take a combined £74m pay cut if the rule were to be applied to them. Or, as one letter in the Guardian points out, Stuart Rose can have his way on CEO’s pay as long as shelf-stackers at M&S get £750,000. Sadly, this doesn’t seem likely.
I don’t have a problem with slimming down government. Some public sector pay packages are excessive. Of course there will be cuts, and there is waste to be eliminated – although not as much as is being claimed. I’ve worked with officials on very high salaries who couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag and that isn’t acceptable. My problem is with the sense that the private sector is to be protected at all costs, while the public sector is for losers who can’t hack it in the real world, and who don’t do anything important anyway so no-one will miss them when they’re gone.
There’s certainly an argument that government can no longer afford to do everything. The politicans’ job is to make some principled choices about what work needs to continue and what should stop, so that the important areas that remain can be properly supported. Announcing what these priorities will be would allow the electorate to make an informed choice about what might happen after an election. Fudging that issue pre-election, or pretending that the problem can be solved by screwing down pay in the public sector and allowing services to be run like a giant game of musical chairs is dishonest.