Having worked for my entire career in the public sector until taking voluntary redundancy at the end of last year (essentially a matter of taking the settlement before getting pushed), I have long been aware of the increasing scapegoating of people in the public sector. It has reached some of its worst excesses in the hands of the Coalition’s bully-in-chief, Eric Pickles – a man who before the election “joked” he would keep a gun in his desk to shoot civil servants who told him things he didn’t want to hear – claiming that overpaid public sector workers, not bankers, were responsible for the financial crash in 2008.
But it’s a continuous drip of mendacious propaganda. A fine example was a story in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph concerning Phil Dolan, outgoing Chief Executive of North Somerset District Council and described as “The highest-paid employee in either central or local government.” and allegedly earning £570,000 last year
Except he wasn’t.
Get into the detail of the story and you realise that this huge sum is nothing to do with his annual salary of £157,000. It includes a redundancy payment of £167,000 and £269,000 of notional payment into his pension pot to allow him to receive an immediate pension. Mr Dolan will benefit from this over a considerable period of time.
In other words, it’s utterly mendacious. A pack of lies, woven around numbers that sound large but are minuscule compared with the level of bonuses at the top of the financial sector. And this of course is a man whose duty was to deliver real services to real people, not to gamble with other people’s pension funds. Mr Dolan’s actual salary was considerably less, than, for example, London’s part-time mayor Boris Johnson receives for moonlighting on, er, the Daily Telegraph.
The truth for most public sector workers is of course completely different. As CEO of a private sector organisation of the size and breadth of responsibility he exercised at North Somerset, Mr Dolan would have been paid vastly more. It’s all very easy to pick out high salaries at the top in the public sector, but for comprarable levels of responsibility with their private sector counterparts, public sector workers are paid less. And the average allegedly gold-plated civil service pension is £4000 per year – the myths about public sector pay and pensions are admirably punctured by PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka here.
The temper of the Coalition can be perhaps best measured in the fact that when Manchester City Council announced 2000 job losses, there were no expressions of regret; instead Pickles’ mini-me Grant Shapps sought to make political capital and crowed about the destruction on non-jobs.
But truth, not least the truth that those working in the public sector are decent people working hard to deliver the decencies of life, is the last thing the Coalition – and their supporters in the yellow press – want when discussing public sector pay and pensions. They are ideological crusaders whose case collapses in the face of the truth about the public sector. Given the choice between backing a nurse and backing a banker, Cameron, Clegg and Osborne would back the banker every time. And to get acceptance for this, they, and their newspapers, lie about the public sector and the decencies it provides.
And it’s time to recognise for what it is – dishonest, wilful bullying, directed against decent people who can’t answer back.