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Has Nick got it right on paying our squaddies more?

September 2nd, 2009 Posted in Economics, UK Politics by

soldierHot on the heels of his call to cut waste in the public sector, Nick Clegg reckons he can find the cash for a £6,000 pay hike for junior military personnel by getting rid of 10,000 MoD desk jobs (I don’t know if the calculations assume these paper-pushers would claim welfare benefit or whether they would immediately find alternative gainful employment).

The argument goes that privates in the line of duty should expect a salary on a par with junior cops and firemen. And (putting aside the argument that these guys shouldn’t be out there anyway) £17 grand a year for getting shot at in Iraq and Afghanistan seems like pretty paltry compensation.

It’s certainly an eye-catching initiative, but the present catastrophic state of public finances means that simply switching money from “wasteful” areas to  “frontline” areas is not a luxury that the next government is likely to be able to afford. Overall cuts are going to be needed, not just elegant spending shuffles.

There’s a good case to be made that we pay firemen too much – certainly the number of new applications handsomely outstrip the number of  vacancies.

And if we are going to go through the public sector payroll seeking to push salaries upwards to meet some criterion of fairness, then we need to brace ourselves for an unaffordable and inflationary wage explosion.

Bus drivers are paid about £25,000 a year compared to tube drivers who rake in about £40,000, despite the fact that the former job is considerably more skilled and onerous. But the problem isn’t that we pay bus drivers too little – it’s that we pay tube drivers too much.

I like the sentiments behind Nick’s new policy. But at some point, we need to accept the logic that public spending needs to go down overall. That means clever cuts in one area will NOT mean increases in another.

5 Responses to “Has Nick got it right on paying our squaddies more?”

  1. Mark Reckons Says:

    Good thought provoking post.

    I agree that we need to get a grip on public finances and trying to pretend it can all be done with a little bit of fiddling here and there is not going to fool anyone.

    Brown’s already tried with the Labour “investment” line and that is apparently now being abandoned as people saw through it.

  2. Geoffrey Payne Says:

    I agree our troops should not be in Afghanistan, but given they are and are doing a very dangerous job, I think they deserve to get paid more. However I am unclear what the consequences would be if the money is found by cuts elsewhere.
    As for fire fighters, that is a different matter. If your life was saved by a fire fighter who puts his own life at risk to save you, would you tell him to his face that he is being paid too much? Fire fighters do not get paid enough!

  3. Mark Littlewood Says:

    Hmmm…so, more money for firefighters and more for the army. I doubt I’d tell a firefighter to his face that he should be paid less if he had just pulled me from the towering inferno, but that doesn’t strike me as the sort of basis upon which we should decide public sector pay.

  4. Geoffrey Payne Says:

    Well I think there is a real bind here. Ideally people should be paid what they are worth in terms of what they contribute to society, but in practice it is hard to commit to that when taxpayers have to pay for it.
    However I think we should establish that people are worth a lot of money for the work they do, especially those who save people’s lives, regardless of the supply and demand for the positions in the job market.
    I believe there are many examples of where market forces does not appropriately value the work that people do, and this is one of them.

  5. Jock Says:

    Of course one could argue that the only thing required of government to do would be to pay properly for our national defense – not my argument, you will understand, the “state” should not even be doing that!

    So why get stuck on civil servants in the MoD only? Get rid of all the rest and there’d be plenty of money to spend on these brave young men and women. It seems paticularly absurd at the moment when there is an adevertising campaign on pointing out that you get £16k after training as if it’s some kind of great shakes. Of course it’s not, it is just cementing the age old position that the nation tends to draw on its poorest citizens to go and die for it.

    My security guards here are all ex-Gurkhas, and whilst Mandy Rice-Davis Applies, they say that our army in particular, but also armed forces more generally, are in fact an order of magnitude better than everyone else’s because ours still achieve their objectives on a relative financial and technological shoestring. That they are much more reliant on their professionalism, training and skills because they cannot rely on having the technology to get them out of bad situations.