The Spectator

Public-sector fat cats

Jean-Pierre Garnier should have worked in the public sector not for GlaxoSmithKline

Anyone organising a protest against fat-cat pay should bear in mind the experience of a group of gas customers who recently attempted to take a 40-stone sow called Winnie to the AGM of energy company Centrica in Birmingham. She was to sit on the pavement before the press cameras and be fed a bucket of swill to symbolise the supposed corporate greed which has pushed up gas prices by 12 per cent in two years.

What the organisers had failed to take into account was the bureaucracy now involved in handling a pig. First, the protesters were made to apply for an animal-movement licence. That hurdle overcome, it then transpired that they also required something called an ‘animal-welfare licence’. After some consideration, Birmingham City Council decided that the criteria for this licence could not be met, and the stunt had to be called off.

The story poses the question: who is the real drain on the public – a small group of corporate fat cats who have helped themselves to a generous slice of their companies’ profits, or the vast and growing army of state functionaries paid, at taxpayers’ expense, to enforce petty rules? To read the commentary of the past few days, there is no contest. The angry GlaxoSmithKline shareholders who voted down a pay package proposed for the company’s chief executive, Jean-Pierre Garnier, were warmly applauded on all sides.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Patricia Hewitt, described the shareholders’ actions as ‘justified fury’. Brendan Barber, general secretary-elect of the TUC, thundered that ‘Britain’s boardrooms are on notice, but there is no guarantee that they will act unless the government changes the law to ban payments for failure’. Even Neil Collins, City editor of the Daily Telegraph, appeared to be ready to haul Monsieur Garnier off to the Bastille.

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