Transparency is this government’s quintessence. It is a mantra to two gods. First, it is a constituent of the ‘new politics’ – that jewel over which the three partisan thieves squabble. Second, it enables the government to amputate gangrenous public sector pay.
The public sector is powerful. The previous government’s economic policy bred a bowler-hatted Leviathan. You can argue the toss whether civil servants are overpaid per se, or that their pension entitlements are grotesque in an era of budget restraint. But the government’s battle will be more brutal because the public sector is the final redoubt for the antediluvian fat-cat unionism of Simpson, Woodley and Crow, to name but three.
The government has won the opening exchanges by cutting ministerial pay. They pressed their advantage this morning by publishing a list of civil servants who earn more than the Prime Minister. High public sector salaries attract the best candidates and should be defended. Waste and arcane inefficiency are another matter and this morning’s figures will incite both envy and anger. John Fingleton of the OFT earns up to £280,000, which he defended on Today as ‘modest’. More damaging for the public sector’s cause is Sir Michael Scholar, the statistician, who earns up to £154,999 and works ‘at least 3 days a week’.
Everyone has heard the joke about the British Rail employing stokers on electric trains. Other than his knighthood, I can’t see how Sir Michael differs from those obsolete railwaymen. Tactically, the publication of this list is a masterstroke.