Page last updated at 16:19 GMT, Monday, 17 August 2009 17:19 UK

Darling dismisses pay commission

Alistair Darling on curbing excessive bank payments

Chancellor Alistair Darling has come out against calls for a new commission to curb "excessive" pay.

One hundred public figures joined a pressure group's campaign for a High Pay Commission, to act as a watchdog over high City salaries.

The centre-left Compass group's campaign called for steps such as maximum wage ratios and bonus taxes.

Mr Darling said he was "not persuaded by that", but criticised the culture of huge bonuses at banks.

The campaign compared the wage levels of the highly-remunerated to those of employees who worked a 40-hour week earning the minimum wage.

It argued someone earning the minimum wage would have to work for about 226 years to receive the same annual pay as a FTSE 100 boss.

'Unjust rewards'

The campaign's backers include Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable and Labour MP Jon Cruddas, who argue that high levels of pay and bonuses led to the financial crisis.

The group urging for control over pay issued a joint statement, which said the "unjust rewards" of a few hundred "masters of the universe" exacerbated the risks to which the British economy was exposed.

But Mr Darling said it was not the government's role to interfere in wage negotiations.

Cable on excessive pay bonuses

"I do think that government has a role in trying to stop undesirable practices, such as excessive risk-taking through bonus payments in the banking system where we all stand to lose if that goes wrong," Mr Darling said.

"But generally, I think that pay agreements ought to be reached by employers and employees meeting together."

The Conservatives were similarly unimpressed: "It is one thing ensuring city pay structures don't jeopardise the banking system - and quite another trying to reintroduce a prices and incomes policy across the economy," said shadow chancellor George Osborne.

Public anger

The campaign said that in the same way that the Low Pay Commission was set up in 1997 to advise on the minimum wage, a High Pay Commission was needed to introduce "a wide-ranging review" of pay at the top and bring in new measures to curb excessive remuneration.

"Remuneration and performance pay cycles are too short; rewards for failure are too great, to the detriment of the long-term future of these companies and the wider economy," the campaign argued.

"There is no justification for massive pay and bonus awards in financial institutions, the most important of which are guaranteed or owned or have been rescued by the taxpayer," Mr Cable said.

Concern over high bonuses is not new, but it has prompted anger in recent months, at a time when the global economy has been in recession.

Much of the fury has been directed towards the possibility that the same banks that played a crucial role in the financial crisis and received state aid will, in time, return to handing out large bonuses while workers in the general economy still suffer.

Media reports on Monday suggested Barclays was seeking to hire five JP Morgan bankers with bonus deals totalling £30m. JP Morgan declined to comment.

Separately, the Times said Barclays paid million of pounds to its head of Barclaycard, Anthony Jenkins, for a role that never came to fruition.

Barclays declined to comment on both reports.

Global issue

G20 leaders addressed the topic of bonuses and high pay at their meeting in London in April. One member nation, France, has been particularly vociferous on the topic.

Christine Lagarde, France's finance minister, told French radio on Monday: "What we need to collectively eradicate is this rat race - the race for bonuses."

The US House of Representatives has voted in favour of laws to prevent banks paying bonuses that encourage excessive risk-taking.

However, the British Bankers' Association has said pay rules are already "more stringent" in the UK than in any other country.

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