I get paid too much, insists (refreshingly honest) police chief

Sir Norman Bettison says efforts to compete for top bosses have pushed public sector salaries too high.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Turkeys don’t often vote for Christmas, but Sir Norman Bettison may be the exception. In today’s Times, the West Yorkshire Chief Constable says his £213k salary package is excessive and unnecessary – and calls for an across-the-board freeze on senior pay. The problem, he argues, is that the public sector thinks it needs to offer salary packages comparable to the private sector, so it can compete for top managers – but since people like him don’t sign up for the money, there’s no need to do that. On a day when it also emerged that senior NHS managers are seeing their salaries rise at double the rate of nurses, it’s increasingly clear that we need to take a long hard look at public sector pay…

Sir Norman suggests that this ‘arms race’ for leadership started in the NHS, in a bid to tempt managers from the private sector, and then ‘spread quickly to the Civil Service, local authorities, chief constables and even fire chiefs’. There was, he says, ‘a bizarre notion that if we didn’t create comparable remuneration packages, all the talented leaders would become bankers or captains of industry.’ A 1992 review by ex-BAT chairman Sir Patrick Sheehy came to much the same conclusion about the police – as a result of which Bettison now earns an annual salary of £163,000, which with his big fat pension etc shoots up to £213,000 (and that’s before his bonus, though he chose to waive that last year).

Now you might argue that this is not an unreasonable sum for a guy running a £427m operation, responsible for 10,000 staff. But Bettison reckons this is missing the point; that may be true in the private sector, he says, but people work in the public sector ‘because of a sense of vocation - to make a difference to society or to the quality of people’s lives’. In practice, they’d have done the same job ‘for far less pay’. So the prevailing wisdom is just completely misguided.

Further grist to that particular mill comes from today’s Income Data Services report on senior NHS salaries: it found that in the year to March 2009, CEOs got an average pay rise of 6.9% (rising to 7.8% for the top-ranked trusts) – at a time when nurses got a pay rise of 2.75%. Now we’d argue that the situation is slightly different in the NHS: senior policeman are usually life-long coppers, whereas that’s not necessarily true of their equivalents in the health service – so they may need to be tempted in from outside. Equally, we can’t help feeling that the NHS has desperately needed to bring in additional management expertise – and that good trust managers will be worth their weight in gold during the next few years.

However, the ever-growing discrepancy between salaries at the top and the bottom is hard to justify. And given the parlous state of the public finances, we wouldn’t be surprised if Sir Norman gets his wish pretty soon.


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