Thursday, January 10, 2008

Latest On Running Sores

Fresh news on some of BOM's old "favourites":

1. Public sector bonuses

According to the Telegraph: "Staff at the Whitehall department that lost the personal details of 25 million families have received a £19 million performance-related bonus.

Some of the payments, worth up to £8,000 each, were made at the end of November, just days after news emerged of the missing child benefit database discs. The payout at HM Revenue and Customs, which has seen seven data breaches since April 2005, was a 70 per cent rise on the £11 million shared by staff in the previous year."

Unbelievable. Except, as we've blogged previously, unlike their private sector counterparts, public sector bonuses are never linked to any meaningful measure of real world performance:

"The public sector is not targeting profit, or any such clearcut objective. Indeed, that's one of its manifold organisational problems.

There is no transparent and robust linkage from bonuses back to a real world objective. Just another pile of box ticking commissariate wibble that has us paying out more than we need for things we never wanted in the first place.

Public sector bonuses are awarded pretty well irrespective of overall performance. As the BBC spokesman put it, “bonuses are part of staff’s contractual entitlement”. In other words, they're part of salary."

As in so much else, the public sector may dress itself in the management clothes of the private sector, but underneath everything carries on in the same old high cost inefficient way.

2. Failing schools

The government's more detailed GCSE league tables are out (see this blog). They show the percentage of pupils getting at least five A-C grade GCSEs including Maths and English (eg see here and here for full list by Local Authority area).

As you may know, the government's entirely arbitrary target is for every school to get at least 30% of its pupils achieving that. 30% is pretty low, but today's tables show that one-in-five state schools are failing to reach even that, and they "educate" half a million pupils. The very worst school managed to get just 1% of its pupils through- surely any alternative would be better than that.

And of course, we have to remember this underachievement is despite the systematic dumbing down of exams (see many previous blogs, eg here and here).

Indeed, so poor are the current GCSEs, that many top independent schools are abandoning them for the much more rigorous International GCSE, which is set and marked outside the dismal purview of the government's qualifications quango.

One bizarre result is that top schools like St Paul's and Westminster are down at the bottom of these new tables, because the government reckons their much tougher International GCSEs don't count. It's the crazy world of Stalinist education... well, except that Stalinist education achieved remarkable results, raising literacy from about 25% to virtually 100% in very short order- far better than our state schools.

3. MPs' pay and rations

The inflation busting MPs pay deal rumbles on (see this blog). Is it a set-up to show Bottler can be tough in standing against it? We'll believe that when we see it turned down.

Just to remind ourselves, MPs currently get £60,675 pa, plus an average £136,000 pa expenses. And while it's true they've had sub-inflation pay deals recently, the Commons Library says "over the past 17 years their pay has risen by 127% - compared with a rise in the Retail Price Index over the same period of 72% and a rise in average earnings of 110%".

And on top of everything they are members of Britain's best final salary pension scheme, that still remains open for business even after Bottler's infamous dividend tax raid.

This week we learned that the employers' contribution to that is likely to be even higher than previously thought. It's now officially estimated at up to £16.5m pa, equivalent to around 38% of salry. But independent estimates put it at up to 48% of salary, equivalent to £29,000 pa for each MP. And just to labour the point, that's on top of salary.

Gold-plated indeed.

Meanwhile, the late Dearly Beloved Leader is topping up his £64,000 pa index-linked Prime Ministerial pension by cashing in Big-Time. £500 grand a year for a part-time job with JP Morgan comes on top of a raft of other earners.

Clearly it's horribly tacky, and clearly it drags the office of PM even further into the gutter. But should we taxpayers be concerned?

If he was going to exploit his Prime Ministerial contacts to promote JP's money making activities, we should be highly concerned. Not only does Britain's government already hand out far too much of our hard earned cash to various sweetheart suppliers, but having our ex-PM acting as a global super-salesman for an investment bank surely devalues our national brand even further than he managed in office.

But I expect JP have simply hired him so they can benefit from his wisdom on world affairs.

Don't you?