Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
1 June 2010

What the coalition should remember about public-sector pay

It was soaraway pay in the private sector that allowed civil service salaries to grow.

By George Eaton

The coalition should be praised for its decision to publish today’s “public-sector rich list”. In these straitened times, the public deserves transparency on Whitehall pay.

Most news groups are inevitably running with the line that 172 civil servants earn more than the Prime Minister, though this is far from an ideal comparison. Let’s not forget that, in addition to his prime ministerial salary (£142,500), David Cameron earns £64,766 a year as the MP for Witney. And let’s remember that if you’re a prime minister, the really big paydays come once you’ve left No 10.

The proper headline, therefore, is that 172 civil servants now earn more than £150,000. Few doubt that that is too high; there is, or should be, a culture where the ethic of public service matters more than earning a top salary.

But what should not be forgotten, and what the coalition shows little awareness of, is that such excessive salaries did not originate from within the public sector: they were imported from the private sector.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

Had public-sector pay not risen in response to soaraway private-sector pay rates, such positions would have become, as Polly Toynbee has written elsewhere, “disrespected jobs for disrespected people, second-class, depressed and despised”.

Cameron’s desire to tame public-sector pay is legitimate and understandable, and his decision to apppoint Will Hutton to lead a pay review for the coalition shows that he is sincere.

But until the government gets serious about private-sector pay, by establishing a High Pay Commission, its approach will remain distinctly unbalanced.

Special offer: get 12 issues of the New Statesman for just £5.99 plus a free copy of “Liberty in the Age of Terror” by A C Grayling.