PATRICK HARVIE – Now is the time to crack down on public 'fat cats'

IN A previous column I wrote about the Scottish Government's Budget and its 1% cap on public sector pay increases.

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This is way below inflation and will mean even more overstretched household budgets.

But not in every household – because a few public sector workers are doing very nicely.

Over recent years some parts of the public sector have become just as unequal as big business, with minimum wages paid to outsourced workers, while a lucky few enjoy astonishing salaries.

This, apparently, is what "the market" demands, say some so-called experts.

Some of the highest salaries in the public sector are at Scottish Water, with several senior staff paid around £250,000.

Its last chief executive was on £380,000.

This week it has been revealed ScotRail is fast catching up with this.

Its managing director will be enjoying a pay rise of £54,000 this year, taking his total package of pay and perks to a third of a million pounds.

ScotRail, of course, is run by First Group, a private sector profit-driven company.

But it is operating a public sector franchise to run a public service.

The gap between high and low pay has grown incredibly wide in recent years –and it does not need to be this way.

Simply blaming "the market" as if it is a law of nature is nonsense. Markets are just the name we give to the overall effect of individual decisions.

Market conditions are set by the people making those decisions, and those who set pay levels for senior positions must take responsibility.

This inequality is shameful at any time, but even worse when the UK and Scottish Governments are squeezing the pay of the dedicated public sector workers that we all depend on to provide the services a decent society needs.

The minimum wage (currently £6.19 an hour if you are over 21) was an important step forward, and the Living Wage (now £7.20 for Glasgow City Council workers) is a vital next step.

But it is time we also looked at high pay and start to close the gap.

New appointments are coming at the top of Scottish Water and Creative Scotland, and there is a new ScotRail franchise coming soon.

So the Scottish Government should seize this moment to introduce maximum pay ratios between high and low pay in the public sector, and in companies delivering public services.

Maybe then the phrase "we're all in it together" will not ring so hollow.

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