Gordon's dilemma

May 22, 1998

Chancellor Gordon Brown is again concerned about pay outstripping productivity ... what on earth will he do? He should "name and shame" the companies, sectors and company directors who are "over-paying". He should praise the "model" companies and sectors where pay matches productivity. He should then wholeheartedly condemn the companies and sectors where excess worker productivity is not matched by rewards. If many of the victimised workers are in (to choose a random example) higher education, then he should immediately initiate catch-up pay.

What he will do (again) is huff and puff and let the private sector get away with the failure to make the long-term infrastructural investment that underpins productivity in rival nations. To balance the books he will then turn around and yet again hammer the pay of the public sector. Whatever Sir Michael Bett and his team eventually find (THES, May 8) will turn out to be "frozen" in the "national interest" (ie interests of private profit). So we will get a certain continuation of real inflation-adjusted wage-cuts for academics. Sir Michael already admits as much by using terms such as "within likely financial constraints" and "How much institutions are able to afford" - in ASDA-speak: "permanently low wages - forever".

When are we going to wake up to the fact that this government, like every one since 1975, offers "jam tomorrow" because it knows that tomorrow never comes. The failure to take this on board can only be explained by some form of collective denial. I do not doubt that much of the evidence put before Sir Michael will be tainted by the fact that a high percentage of lecturers are now far too depressed to complain. Indeed, what account will ever be taken of those who have already had enough and left the profession through ill-health, early retirement - or in a coffin?

E. Brown Manchester

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