Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

The Underpaid Prime Minister?

Prime Minister David Cameron

Cameron ... because he's worth it?

Today sees another story about local authority chief executive pay and the ubiquitous comparison with the Prime Minister’s salary – the benchmark by which everyone’s remuneration is to be measured these days in the public sector, and sometimes beyond.

Almost half of councils paid their chief executives more than the £142,500 salary that David Cameron received in 2010.

At least 26 chief executives earned more than £200,000 in 2009-10, while 1,000 council officials were paid more than £100,000.

I know that in Bromley in my own fair county the chief executive has taken flak himself for his £185k salary, though today’s survey does put that figure into context; the likes of Wandsworth’s (pbut) chief exec. are on around £300,000, for heading up a borough with a smaller population than Bromley but receiving considerably more central government grant.

Now for the (probably very) minority view. In comparing such figures, why do we fixate on the PM? Surely what this tells us is that it’s the PM who is underpaid? (Granted, of course, that we’re ignoring the benefits in kind: the job-related accommodation, etc.) I must say that I thought this even when Gordon Brown was still care-taking, though sadly I didn’t blog about it so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Seriously, though, Cameron has the power (albeit it delegated from Her Majesty, as are all his powers) to send the country to war. He has his finger on the nuclear button. In some respects he has more freedom of action as head of government (at least in practice) than the U.S. President. It is a true 24*7(*365) job. A Chief Executive, on the other hand, cannot go further than the ruling administration will allow.

Which brings us to another key distinction that gets overlooked: a council Chief Executive is the ‘Head of Paid Service’ – that is, he/she is the ultimate line manager for all the Council’s staff. The politicians make the overarching decisions, but he puts them into practice. So the parallel in central government is not the Prime Minister but the Cabinet Secretary – the head of the civil service. Gus O’Donnell (for it is he) earns somewhere north of £235,000. No, that doesn’t mean that he or anyone else on the public purse is immune from scrutiny of their remuneration package, but in a rational debate you must surely start by comparing like with like.

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