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Page last updated at 23:00 GMT, Sunday, 19 September 2010 00:00 UK
The case for and against high public sector pay

Police chief 'worth' his 208,000 pay

Panorama's Vivian White presents views from both sides of the heated debate over how much senior public sector workers should be paid. In researching Panorama: Because We're Worth It - the Taxpayers' Rich List, he takes the pulse of the people in Trafalgar Square and hears a rigorous defence of a highly paid chief constable in Middlesbrough.

This is a tale in two parts.

Indeed, for two very different views of what the top people in the public sector are worth, I recommend what I like to refer to as the WATS versus WACCs.

The WATS are the World According To (passers-by in) Trafalgar Square.

While the WACCs are the Word According To (residents we spoke to in) the Park End Community Centre, in Middlesbrough, which lies within the patch of the Cleveland Police.

At the start of the last Bank Holiday weekend, we conducted a thoroughly unscientific survey.

They also all seemed to agree that the change stems from how their community was now being policed since Sean Price, took over at the head of Cleveland Police

I wheeled a whiteboard into Trafalgar Square, an august setting from where we overlooked the seat of government in Whitehall.

We asked anybody who admitted to being British to play the Great Public Sector Fridge Magnets Game.

"Here are eight handy palm-sized fridge magnets with pictures of eight people at the top of their respective organisations in the public sector," I told the passers by.

"Please stick them up on the board in the order that you think they are paid, highest at the top, lowest at the bottom."

Moral indignation

The choices on offer included the Head of the Home Civil Service, the boss of British Waterways, even the Director-General of the BBC and, of course, the Prime Minister.

public sector wage board
The answers to 'Who earns what?' surprised passers-by

Once their choices were made, we then stuck up our magnets in the order that accurately reflects what each of these people on senior public sector pay packets really earns.

In the end, all of them were paid more than Prime Minister David Cameron.

The BBC's Mark Thompson was top of our list of eight, at £838,000. That figure represents Mr Thompson's total published remuneration, including payments into a pension top-up scheme for high earners. He is also foregoing a month of his pay for the next two years.

The PM is on £142,500.

Very few of our respondents got it right and placed David Cameron at the bottom of the list.

Panorama, BBC One
Monday, 20 September at 2030BST

And a chorus of disapproval greeted the shock 'reveal' of the actual order of who earns what.

"Robbery without violence," said one gentleman, pithily.

No one said: "Well so be it, why shouldn't they."

In fact, we had provoked a wave of moral indignation.

The message, loud and clear, was that top people in the public sector getting top whack was "bad".

Restraint, coupled with vows of poverty was "good".

Safer, cleaner

But for part two of this tale, we travelled to Cleveland.

You may not know the estate we went to in Middlesbrough.

It was noticeably, obviously, graffiti-free. There was very little litter. There were children on the streets - but they were rather well behaved. We were told this was not always the way.

The change is not the result of slipping something in the water here, though if you had felt like a dip and were looking for a lovely seaside scene you needn't have gone further than nearby Redcar, with its beach and donkeys just a block away from its town centre.

All of this represents a dramatic improvement, according to the local shopkeepers in Redcar and the long-established local residents we met at Park End Community Centre.

Vivian White in Trafalgar Square
Passersby in Trafalgar Square gave their thoughts on public sector pay

They also all seemed to agree that the change stems from how their community was now being policed.

Since 2003, that is, when a new Chief Constable, Sean Price, took over at the head of Cleveland Police.

Until this, it was a poorly performing police service - one that is now top-rated.

The residents said they had had stuff thrown through their windows, and had not felt safe on the streets by night or day.

"They've given us our lives back," said local resident Marjorie of the police effort under Mr Price.

'Worth it'

Shopkeepers told us how they were now hooked up to a walkie-talkie system which the police were also monitoring in a bid to deter shoplifters.

And they all had little lists to make sure they recognised known troublemakers.

Jano, who runs the Perfumery, said, framed by scents and sensibility: "They love to shop in Redcar and it's safer now."

How do you put a price on that feeling of safety and security they feel they have gained by having Mr Price and his team?

What about £208,690? That is what Sean Price gets. It includes £20,000 performance pay.

That eye-watering figure didn't make them blink at the local community centre.

"Is he worth £200,000 a year?" I asked Geraldine.

"I would say a month," she replied without hesitation.

I threw everything at them - that part of his pay package had been a contribution towards private school fees and private health care.

"Well good luck to him, we all like the perks of our job, don't we?" said Jean.

It would not have mattered if I had told them he had a gold Rolls- Royce (he doesn't).

"I'd polish it," one of them muttered.

To the people of Middlesbrough, high public sector pay was not an abstraction, it was a payment for deeply appreciated results.

They did not especially want their top copper to get more than the prime minister, for its own sake. But they did not mind in the slightest if he did.

Panorama: Because We're Worth It - The Taxpayers' Rich List, BBC One, Monday, 20 September at 2030BST and then available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.

Top public sector pay is revealed
Monday, 20 September 2010, 11:06 GMT |  UK
Tough choices ahead, Tories warn
Thursday, 19 March 2009, 17:20 GMT |  Politics


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