This week front-line civil service workers went out on strike. And on Monday (13th) the public services unions did likewise. They oppose cuts to their wages and their jobs. But at the top of the Civil Service, and higher echelons of Britain’s local councils, wage inflation over the past decade runs at more than 60 percent; and some 38,000 public sector managers earn £100,000 per year, or more.
Having worked briefly for Britain’s biggest public services union several years ago, I can’t think of the logic behind Trade Unions such as UNISON and the GMB retaining support of the Labour Party – the architects of this public sector pay apartheid.
We in Britain should be proud to be public servants. I am. My father, a museum’s curator, was. We should recognise that public service, and the public sector, is an often untrumpeted force for good in our community.
But during the past decade our public services have been denigrated by the three main Parties; with the implication that managers and directors have to be bribed with gigantic salary packages to lower themselves to work for the local communities.
I raised this public sector pay inequality repeatedly with Trade Union officials and Labour politicians in the past. Each elbowed me aside, suggesting that the sums for managers were ‘chicken feed’ and in no way equated to the cost of ‘Tory’ public sector pay cuts and redundancies.
Perversely, these union leaders and Labour MPs were right, to an extent. The costs do not equate.
In fact the pay of millionaire public sector bosses now dwarf the size of budgets allocated to pay for tens, or even, hundreds of thousands of their own colleagues in the lower ranks of Britain’s public services: our nation’s nurses, classroom assistants, and refuse collectors.
The reality is, mass-scale six-figure salaries funded by the taxpayer, now directly cause local service cuts and front-line public sector pay deflation. This issue also entrenches national debt and future tax burdens.
I’m surprised intelligent union leaders and Labour shadow ministers pretend otherwise.
Last year, the GMB Trade Union, for local council workers, ran a very noble campaign to save its members jobs. It was revealed in a newspaper that then Education Secretary Michael Gove planned to axe 230,000 Classroom Assistants’ jobs (equivalent to around £3.45bn).
The average Classroom Assistant’s salary is around £15,000, with a take home pay of just over £1,000 per month. This in itself is unequivocally a disgrace. It is not a family living wage, and means that the state has to introduce various tax credit top-ops and opt-outs, and provide more staff and IT systems, to administer such benefits.
But at the top-end of the same Council and Civil structures pay and pensions have moved out of the stratosphere of ordinary workers and taxpayers.
Some 819 central government civil servants and quango managers earn more than £100,000 per year. 234 earn more than the Prime Minister (at £142,500).
And if we look across the entire British public sector, some 38,000 government workers are paid £100,000 or above. By 2011, 9,187 were paid more than the Prime Minister.
The pay for the highest three per cent of workers has risen by 64 percent in the past decade.
Yet, in real terms, for the lowest paid – nursing assistants, teaching assistants, refuse collectors – wages have sharply declined. These are not my figures, but by research from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
For instance, the entrant’s salary of a police officer has been whittled down to £18,000 a year. The entry point salary for a graduate nurse is only £21,000 – £5,500 below the national average.
Each public sector manager or director paid more than £100,000 per year could, therefore, create or secure, the jobs of at least five nurses or five police officers.
Savings on executive pay could even raise existing staff salaries to the national average (£26,500).
Yet, thanks to Labour’s spending extravagance, and the Tories own dismal struggle to whittle down the deficit, in part by a failure to address public sector executive pay, British nurses, police and refuse collectors face a pay freeze (or real terms decline) until 2017.
A decade of pay cuts and redundancies to pay for their own millionaire bosses on the same payroll.
One nurse — a UNISON member reports on the organisation’s own website- “since 2010, my pay has gone down an average of 15 percent while electric, oil, food prices have all risen substantially”.
Each time a public sector manager earns £100,000 per year, then the alternative could be the salary package of retaining seven classroom assistants. Or deliver a substantial pay increase for five.
Each council manager or civil servant earning £143,000 or above – more than Prime Minister David Cameron – is earning the same as eight new Metropolitan Police officers, most of whom can’t afford to live near work.
Each time a local council or quango manager earns £200,000 year or above – then that’s the same pay as ten new graduate nurses. And our politicians wonder why many high performers leave for Canada or Australia.
Meanwhile national government debt stands at £1.4 trillion, or £18,000 per citizen. So, the legacy tax on executive public sector salaries and pensions will keep frontline workers in a financial quagmire for years to come.
To be clear, Britain is not a poor country. It’s just that our present political leaders binge your money on all the wrong things.
It’s the Labour Party and Conservative Party that have caused this financial mess.
And it’s the Labour and Conservative Party that have created this immoral gravy train, where a man, like my father, can work as a middle ranking public servant for twenty years, yet in that time, his lifetime tax bill is swallowed, in its entirety, by the annual salary of a Council or quango Director.
But I will leave you with some final maths.
That 9,137 public sector workers who earn more than the prime minister: well, that costs the tax-payer at least £1.4bn – the cost of around 80,000 new police officers or soldiers.
And those 38,000 public sector workers paid £100,000 (or above), well that comes to around £4.3bn per year … and that’s not including the gilt-edged pensions.
These sums are staggering and irresponsible.
In a practical sense, they would save every single one of the 230,000 Classroom Assistant posts that the GMB union is attempting to save.
It would also leave around £900m in surplus to perhaps save for the taxpayer or divvy up as a much needed pay-rise for the lowest paid public sector workers.
I honestly cannot compute the iniquity and insanity of this system. If it happened in Russia or Venezuela or Iran, then our national media would be sabre rattling for sanctions, and international charities would be filing lawsuits against corruption.
So why do the public sector unions continue to only talk to the Labour Party?
And how can they justify to their hard-working, ordinary members, the manner in which their leaders continue to treat other political parties (most notably UKIP who aim to massively reduce the Government managerial wage bill), like public service pariahs?
It just seems utterly illogical. But, then, that’s British government in 2014!
Richard Bingley is a Senior Lecturer and former press officer at UNISON, the UK’s largest public services union.