Bank of England mulls pay rise for its court

"Just" £15,000 for three days work a month.

The Financial Times' Patrick Jenkins reports that Bank of England officials are considering boosting the pay of the non-executive directors in the Bank's "court" (its governing body):

The eight external non-executives in the 12-seat “court” – as the BoE’s governing body is named – are paid just £15,000 a year for a time commitment of three days a month. The chairman of the court, Sir David Lees, who works three to four days a week in his role, is paid £30,000.

“This needs to change,” said one person who is backing the reforms. “£15,000 is pitiful. It suggests people are only turning up for tea.”

Although "just £15,000" is actually a pro-rata salary of over £150,000 per year, hard for most to reconcile with the phrase "pitiful", there's a new urgency to getting this sorted out sooner rather than later. With the demise of the Financial Services Authority, which was disbanded at the end of March, financial regulation has been split between the new Financial Conduct Authority, which is operated under the aegis of the Treasury, and two bodies run by the Bank of England: the new Prudential Regulation Authority, and the Bank's own Financial Policy Committee.

On top of that, the Bank also now has an explicit remit to protect financial stability in the UK. All of those changes have made the danger of regulatory capture (when a regulator begins serving the interests of the industry they are regulating over the interests of the state) a more pressing issue than it has been for much of the bank's past; and one of the key ways of avoiding that capture is to pay the regulator enough that they don't find themselves beholden to those they are regulating.

Of course, that's less of an issue in the Bank of England than it is elsewhere. For one, sitting in the court remains a part-time job. A number of the members have other work which hardly leaves them penniless. The managing director of Lloyds Banking Group, the chairman of Legal and General Group and the managing partner of Grovepoint Capital are unlikely to find themselves suddenly corruptible because they spend a few days each month working for less than their normal pay; and regulatory capture is less of an issue if the industry being regulated already has half the seats at the table.

Which is probably why the key argument being made internally is one of perception. As one reformer tells Jenkins:

Continuing to call this body the court and paying people so little conveys the wrong impression externally.

But perception differs inside and outside the industries the Bank regulates. While it may be important in conversations with other people working in the city, there's a markedly different perception of the bank in the real world. While it's insulated from public opinion to a certain extent, it may still be a good idea for the court to let the new financial regulatory regime bed in before awarding themselves pay rises – because right now, the crash is still firm in people's minds, and that is something which doesn't justify a large salary at all.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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The Liverpool protest was about finding a place for local support in a global game

Fans of other clubs should learn from Anfield's collective action.

One of the oldest songs associated with Liverpool Football Club is Poor Scouser Tommy, a characteristically emotional tale about a Liverpool fan whose last words as he lies dying on a WWII battlefield are an exhalation of pride in his football team.

In November 2014, at the start of a game against Stoke City, Liverpool fans unfurled a banner across the front of the Kop stand, daubed with the first line of that song: “Let me tell you a story of a poor boy”. But the poor boy wasn’t Tommy this time; it was any one of the fans holding the banner – a reference to escalating ticket prices at Anfield. The average matchday ticket in 1990 cost £4. Now a general admission ticket can cost as much as £59.

Last Saturday’s protest was more forthright. Liverpool had announced a new pricing structure from next season, which was to raise the price of the most expensive ticket to £77. Furious Liverpool fans said this represented a tipping point. So, in the 77th minute of Saturday’s match with Sunderland, an estimated 15,000 of the 44,000 fans present walked out. As they walked out, they chanted at the club’s owners: “You greedy bastards, enough is enough”.

The protest was triggered by the proposed price increase for next season, but the context stretches back over 20 years. In 1992, the top 22 clubs from the 92-club Football League broke away, establishing commercial independence. This enabled English football’s elite clubs to sign their own lucrative deal licensing television rights to Rupert Murdoch’s struggling satellite broadcaster, Sky.

The original TV deal gave the Premier League £191 million over five years. Last year, Sky and BT agreed to pay a combined total of £5.14 billion for just three more years of domestic coverage. The league is also televised in 212 territories worldwide, with a total audience of 4.7 billion. English football, not so long ago a pariah sport in polite society, is now a globalised mega-industry. Fanbases are enormous: Liverpool may only crowd 45,000 fans into its stadium on matchday, but it boasts nearly 600 million fans across the globe.

The matchgoing football fan has benefited from much of this boom. Higher revenues have meant that English teams have played host to many of the best players from all over the world. But the transformation of local institutions with geographic support into global commercial powerhouses with dizzying arrays of sponsorship partners (Manchester United has an ‘Official Global Noodle Partner’) has encouraged clubs to hike up prices for stadium admission as revenues have increased.

Many hoped that the scale of the most recent television deal would offer propitious circumstances for clubs to reduce prices for general admission to the stadium while only sacrificing a negligible portion of their overall revenues. Over a 13-month consultation period on the new ticket prices, supporter representatives put this case to Liverpool’s executives. They were ignored.

Ignored until Saturday, that is. Liverpool’s owners, a Boston-based consortium who have generally been popular on Merseyside after they won a legal battle to prize the club from its previous American owners, backed down last night in supplicatory language: they apologised for the “distress” caused by the new pricing plan, and extolled the “unique and sacred relationship between Liverpool Football Club and its supporters”.

The conflict in Liverpool between fans and club administrators has ended, at least for now, but the wail of discontent at Anfield last week was not just about prices. It was another symptom of the broader struggle to find a place for the local fan base in a globalised mega-industry.The lazy canard that football has become a business is only half-true. For the oligarchs and financiers who buy and sell top clubs, football is clearly business. But an ordinary business has free and rational consumers. Football fans are anything but rational. Once the romantic bond between fan and team has been forged, it does not vanish. If the prices rise too high, a Liverpool fan does not decide to support Everton instead.

Yet the success of the protest shows that fans retain some power. Football’s metamorphosis from a game to be played into a product to be sold is irreversible, but the fans are part of that product. When English football enthusiasts wake in the small hours in Melbourne to watch a match, part of the package on their screen is a stadium full of raucous supporters. And anyone who has ever met someone on another continent who has never travelled to the UK but is a diehard supporter of their team knows that fans in other countries see themselves as an extension of the local support, not its replacement.

English football fans should harness what power they have remaining and unite to secure a better deal for match goers. When Liverpool fans walked out on Saturday, too many supporters of other teams took it as an opportunity for partisan mockery. In football, collective action works not just on the pitch but off it too. Liverpool fans have realised that. Football fandom as a whole should take a leaf out of their book.