Belfast Telegraph

The public sector pay row moves up a gear

By David Elliott

These pages are no stranger to debates over pay packets, particularly those comparing the various fortunes of both private and public sector workers.

In recent weeks we've been highlighting the growing disparity between the two with the latter getting on average 45% more than the former.

But, as we've been pointing out, the premium for working in the public sector compared to the private is very much apparent at the lower pay grades where you could drive a double decker bus between public sector premium.

It gets closer to par at mid-manager level and then opens for a lot of debate at the top end where that double decker could drive between the premium afforded to private sector bosses.

And therein lies today's analysis.

Does the man charged with boosting the productivity of Northern Ireland's economy deserve to get paid as much as he does?

In fact, that's not really the debate because Alastair Hamilton's pay packet was there for all to see when he took up the post at the head of Invest NI in 2009.

Nobody then questioned the £160,000 salary with the 30% bonus.

But when the latter was monetised at £36,800 for the 2011 financial year and made public then the inevitable happened, even though that was a figure which came in shy at 23%.

Whatever your thoughts on whether Mr Hamilton should be given such a package, the real question today's news throws up is whether an 18% pay rise is better than a 30% bonus.

That's a difficult one to answer.

If you're after greater stability then a high basic salary is the one for you but if you're ambitious, and quite frankly you'd hope that the man at the figurative helm of the Northern Ireland economy is, then you'd be a bit more inclined to have the chance of getting 30% on top of your salary.

But Invest NI is part of the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment and therefore comes under the review of civil service pay so all senior salaries will have to do without bonuses.

Whether that's a good thing or not is open to debate because Invest NI isn't like other departments in the civil service in that it is working as part of the private sector. Would it not be better to have one driven by the same reward structure as the private sector that uses performance-related bonuses?