Magazine article The Spectator

Public-Sector Fat Cats

Magazine article The Spectator

Public-Sector Fat Cats

Article excerpt

Anyone organising a protest against fat-cat pay should bear in mind the experience of a group of gas customers who recently attempted to take a 40-stone sow called Winnie to the AGM of energy company Centrica in Birmingham. She was to sit on the pavement before the press cameras and be fed a bucket of swill to symbolise the supposed corporate greed which has pushed up gas prices by 12 per cent in two years.

What the organisers had failed to take into account was the bureaucracy now involved in handling a pig. First, the protesters were made to apply for an animal-movement licence. That hurdle overcome, it then transpired that they also required something called an 'animal-welfare licence'. After some consideration, Birmingham City Council decided that the criteria for this licence could not be met, and the stunt had to be called off.

The story poses the question: who is the real drain on the public - a small group of corporate fat cats who have helped themselves to a generous slice of their companies' profits, or the vast and growing army of state functionaries paid, at taxpayers' expense, to enforce petty rules? To read the commentary of the past few days, there is no contest. The angry GlaxoSmithKline shareholders who voted down a pay package proposed for the company's chief executive, Jean-Pierre Gamier, were warmly applauded on all sides.

The secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Patricia Hewitt, described the shareholders' actions as 'justified fury'. Brendan Barber, general secretary-elect of the TUC, thundered that 'Britain's boardrooms are on notice, but there is no guarantee that they will act unless the government changes the law to ban payments for failure'. Even Neil Collins, City editor of the Daily Telegraph, appeared to be ready to haul Monsieur Garnier off to the Bastille.

That shareholders have the right to vote against their board, and if they so desire sack the boss, is undeniable. They do, after all, own the company. Whether the wider public has any reason to be upset by Mr Garnier's pay packet is another matter. In a rare case of wise judgment, Ms Hewitt has rejected demands that the government take it upon itself to decide how much the leaders of private-sector companies be paid. But some of the suggestions being put forward, many of which are being considered by the government, are equally absurd. The Amicus union has demanded that a workers' representative be put on the remuneration committee of every company. Not even the Tolpuddle Martyrs saw it as their business to decide how many bushels of corn a Dorset yeoman should be entitled to; their concern was limited to their own pay and conditions. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.