Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Money's not too tight for top bosses to mention a pay rise

Sharon O'Connor

I imagine that Sinn Fein strategists are quietly chuffed by the harmonisation of public sector pay policy north and south - what we might call the "Ciaran-Trevor convergence".

Ciaran Conlon is a special advisor to the Dublin minister for jobs, enterprise and innovation, Richard Bruton of Fine Gael. Trevor Haslett is chief executive of NI Water. Sharon O'Connor is chief executive of Derry City Council. We will come back to Sharon.

Ciaran has been starring on the front pages since the Mail on Sunday revealed that he had threatened to tell Bruton where to insert his job if the government didn't come up with a better offer than a "ridiculous" €92,000 a year. Ciaran reckoned €127,000 would be more appropriate.

And so it came to pass. Bruton consulted with cabinet colleagues, then called Ciaran back saying that would be okay. Would that all public sector pay talks were so simple.

Trevor didn't manage to emulate Ciaran's £30,000 rise. He settled for £20,000. Then again, Trevor's baseline of £130,000 a year had been substantially higher than the stipend originally offered to Ciaran and his current £150,000 tops Ciaran's emolument by a considerable distance.

Trevor's pay negotiations with Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy appear to have been as straightforward as Ciaran's with Bruton. A one-to-one talk, the go-ahead from the Executive and Bob's your uncle.

A DRD spokeswoman explained: "Northern Ireland Water needs leadership and stability.

"Trevor Haslett has demonstrated that he is the best person to lead NI Water through the winter."

But if quality of leadership is measured by salary, how come Trevor's predecessor, Laurence MacKenzie, led NI Water onto the pack ice last winter on a salary of £250,000?

And why is the technique for upping the performance of the lower-paid to make them compete for jobs through redundancies, with a wage-freeze for those who remain?

Sinn Fein will be pleased at the all-Ireland dimension in action. But it will be a discrete pleasure.

The party will hardly want to draw attention to the contradiction between levitating with rage in the south at a pay-rise the equivalent of the average industrial wage being gifted to someone in the top 5% of the earning league, while maintaining zipped lips when the equivalent happens in the north.

On this one, the standard excuse - that such unwelcome measures are imposed by the horrid mandarins of the British Treasury - won't wash. The Treasury had nothing to do with it.

Neither did the Treasury have any input into the all-party decision in Derry last January to approve a £10,0000 increase for whomever replaced the outgoing council chief executive - bringing the pay package up to £107,500 plus expenses.

Last month, in addition, an all-party consensus waved through the appointment of a £500-a-day 'mentor' to help new CEO Sharon O'Connor through those first few difficult days.

One of the functions of the mentor is to "encourage the chief executive in his [sic] new role". It's not clear from the job spec what form this encouragement is expected to take - perhaps walking around the office at Ms O'Connor's shoulder, murmuring calming phrases such as, "Atta girl, sure you're doing great".

A council consensus has also given the green light for a £5,000 payment to Ms O'Connor to help defray the cost of moving from her previous job, at Down District Council.

It is distasteful, even a tad cringe-making, to focus attention on a named individual's good fortune on the pay front. But it is difficult to discourage the thought popping into mind of whether Derry-based health workers will be offered similar assistance following this week's announcement that some will have to relocate to Belfast, Ballymena, or Omagh if they want to hold on to their jobs.

And, finally, in an information-packed few days, we discover, in the Guardian's extracts from a massive piece of research, that many of last summer's rioters had a clear political motive after all - as well as, no doubt, in many cases, a hankering after new trainers. If anyone out there is desperate for a suitable present for a well-sussed friend or family member, why not consider Polly Harvey's shatteringly brilliant album, Let England Shake.

And Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland, too. And the Republic.

Aren't we all in this together?

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