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Time to pay for poor performance

Boz magazine, 69: 15, June 2000

Brian J Ford


The sooner we introduce performance-related pay into every walk of life, the happier I shall be. I don’t know why the teachers object to the idea. It’s exactly what we need. By the time we start equating earnings with efficiency we could have a source of income to rival the National Lottery.

First, the Crown Prosecution service. They have an unrivalled reputation for falling down on the job and letting criminals go unchallenged. The best example must be their issuing a statement last month saying that there definitely wasn’t evidence to prosecute anybody for the Paddington rail disaster. No company was likely to be at fault, said the CPS. The very next day John Hendry QC – representing the victims’ families at the official enquiry – disclosed that Thames Rail had investigated Automatic Train Protection (ATP), and decided against installing it. ATP applies the brakes automatically if a train passes a red light. It would cost 5.2 million to install, said Thames Rail. Instead of protecting their passengers, they gave 7.5 million to their shareholders, and another 1 million to directors Martin Ballinger and Chris Moyes.

How much is the death of 31 passengers worth? Surely, at least 1 million each. And what about the 250 people who were injured? 50,000 per person? I am only guessing, but it does suggest that performance-related pay could mean that the Thames Rail directors owed more than 40 million. Presumably the executives of the Crown Prosecution service, who decided that a Company that resolved to ignore safety shouldn’t be prosecuted when people die, ought to forego a similar sum.

We had the government demanding 20 billion for mobile phone licenses, and then – the very next week – announcing an official survey to see if they were harmful to health. The profitability of these grossly over-charged licences immediately plummeted. The report on the possible risks, edited by Sir William Stewart, had been ready weeks earlier, but was not released until the authorities had collected the money. How well did the government perform there, then? Hands up those who think 20 billion should be about right?

After that came the GM maize ‘accidentally’ planted all over the country. The value of the businesses that source their supplies from GM-free areas must be hundreds of millions, and they would certainly qualify.

Then there’s Barclays. Who reached the decision to close those country branches? Look at the columns of adverse publicity, add up the value of that space in terms of advertising revenue, and you can quickly calculate that those executives must owe, say, twenty or thirty million pounds at the very least. Applying the concept to the police means that we will pay them generous salaries, just as long as their patch remains crime-free. For every breach of the peace, or unsolved crime, their pay goes down. They say that the Chinese used to pay their medics as long as they were fit, and stopped paying the moment they fell ill.

We certainly need some performance-related pay for doctors. Poor Stephen Harley underwent nineteen examinations for throat cancer, including visits to five hospital doctors and four GPs. He knew he had something painful at the back of his tongue, but by the time someone agreed that he wasn’t inventing things, Stephen’s cancer was inoperable. You see? He could get several million back from the doctors with no need to go to court. I’m not sure whether that’ll work out at several million divided among the nineteen doctors he consulted, or several million paid by each; but either way this kind of money will surely help doctors to keep their minds on the job in future.

The most urgent need for performance-related pay is certainly in government. We have had two prime examples of personal ineptitude shown by Mr Blair: his intervention over the Welsh Assembly, and the contest for the Mayor of London. In each case he stated emphatically that one of the candidates would never earn his approval; on both occasions the constituency ended up with that very person. This wasn’t because people necessarily approved of Rhodri Morgan or Ken Livingstone, but because they heartily disapproved of a Prime Minister interfering with the democratic process. Amazing how the Prime Minister never seems to learn, isn’t it? How much should he refund for those monumental gaffes?

Then we have Ministers handling asylum seekers, pensioners, air traffic control, those in receipt of benefit and the swinging increases in the tax burden. The cost of their failure to serve the public in each case must be relatively easy to calculate. By the time we get the grossly overpaid businessmen refunding their earnings for jobs they fail to do properly, and the government giving back sums of money every time they fall down on the job, we’ll have a huge new source of revenue.

Performance-related pay is no scourge. It will help us balance the books for the first time in history.

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