Civil service bonuses

Last week, it was revealed that senior civil servants within the Welsh Assembly had received bonuses of more than £686,000 last year which equates to a rise of more than 154 per cent during the last five years.

More tellingly, twenty eight lucky individuals actually earn more than £100,000 per annum, which is higher than any other Minister except for Rhodri Morgan himself.

This follows revelations of exceptional pay increases and high salaries for other senior public sector staff such as chief executives of local authorities, vice chancellors of universities and the heads of Wales' remaining quangos.

Incredibly, these Assembly bonuses come at a time when education is in a mess, the health service is going through yet another reorganisation and the state of the economy is declining. When the buck is suppose to stop with those at the top, it would seem that they are getting paid for reaching ‘targets’ they themselves have set for performance but which the general public would have difficulty in understanding.

Many will find this situation incredible at a time when pay restraints are being urged upon the vast majority of public sector workers by politicians in Cardiff Bay and Westminster.
Not surprisingly, the high salaries and bonuses for senior staff have been defended in the usual manner. In other words, to attract and retain high calibre executives, the Assembly Government says it needs to reflect market values.

This, of course, is the same argument used by the BBC to make enormous payments to employees such as Jonathan Ross or Graham Norton whilst conveniently forgetting about the salaries of those at a lower level within their organisation.

As would be expected, those making the argument for high salaries and bonuses for executives within the public sector have overlooked the fact that they receive exceptional pension benefits that many private sector workers could only dream of. More significantly, as a leading industrialist told me last week, there are questions over whether many of those at an executive level would last five minutes in an equivalent position within the business world.

Of course, it is easy to paint a negative picture of the entire civil service because of the actions of a few at the top. This would be grossly unfair and misleading.

As I stated on Miss Wagstaff's blog last week, every day I deal with excellent civil servants at a middle manager level who work extremely hard, care about their jobs and the effect they have on Wales.

I doubt if any qualified for a bonus last year even though many are working under management conditions that would stretch the patience of Job. They are a credit to the Assembly and Wales and the work they undertake.

However, they are drowning in a miasma of unnecessary bureaucracy and hierarchical decision making which is largely a result, with a few notable exceptions, of prevarication, inaction and lack of vision by their senior colleagues who worry more about what the Minister might think than whether their actions will positively affect the Welsh people.

I am hopeful that with a new Permanent Secretary in place who seems to have a quite different approach to her predecessor, the Assembly will deal with the issue of pay and performance to ensure that we have a dynamic civil service that does the country credit. Certainly, if we began to see real and sustainable improvements in health, education and the economy, then no-one would begrudge bonuses to every civil servant in Wales.

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