So Iain Coucher, chief executive of Network Rail, is to trouser a £305,000 bonus, despite the enormous disruption to passengers over the Christmas break from the engineering works on the West Coast line in the Rugby area. That’s on top of his salary of his salary of £539,000 and company incentive scheme payment of £200,000, making a total for the year of more than £1 million.
This is the same country where the Government is now holding down 3 million public sector workers to a 2 ½% rise this year, well below inflation now running at 4.2%, on the grounds that the public sector should lead the way in showing restraint – and Network Rail is in the public sector.
What stinks so much about this award by the Network Rail Board remuneration committee (usually chosen by the Board chairman or chief executive himself on the basis that you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours when it comes to your turn in the merry-go-round of mutually generous boardroom pay fixes) is that this is only the last example in a long line of top people’s avarice. And as with Adam Applegarth who walked off with a £750,000 bonbon after bringing Northern Rock to its knees, such hand-outs as often as not are a reward for failure or incompetence. Just imagine the shindy if the trade unions demanded to be treated like that.
So how does one stop this greed incorporated, holding the country to ransom? One way might be to require the mandatory approval of the shareholders for any such mammoth pay-and-bonuses packages. But five years ago the Government refused to legislate for that. They should think again. Or, better still, require it to be put to the vote of all employees of the company since payment is made from a pot to which they contributed and if the boss scoops up a thousand times more than they get (which is what’s happening at Network Rail), there’s less for them.
And if that’s a bit too radical for a Government that believes in stuffing the mouths of the City with gold, why not set up a Fair Pay Commission since the bacchanalian jackpots now being raked off by the super-rich have gone completely amok? Such a Commission, with membership reflecting a cross-section of British society, should draw up guidelines demonstrating a fair system of rewards, not only for the top ranks but for all levels of employment. They would then be openly debated, the public would be consulted, and the final result would offer a template for the Commission to reach its decision if an egregious pay or bonuses package were referred to it for approval.
If Gordon Brown needs to persuade the voters he’s on the side of ordinary people, not the rich, this might just be part of the repositioning he so badly needs.
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