How the Mayor could tackle high pay

Darren Johnson, Green Party member of the London Assembly, calls on London Mayor Boris Johnson to explore the idea of using public sector spending power to exert some influence on private sector pay.

Darren Johnson AM represents the Green Party in the London Assembly

Boris Johnson is casting around for a new Crossrail chief willing to subsist on around £550,000 a year plus bonuses. If he was genuinely concerned about high pay, looking at the companies he does business with might be a way to bring that huge salary down.

When the London Assembly passed my motion in June last year, calling for high pay to be constrained to no more than twenty times that of the lowest paid and aiming for ten times, the Mayor offered support for the principle.

But when I asked him if he would make good on this support when he recruits the new Crossrail chief executive, he offered the familiar cop-out:

“We will offer a remuneration package commensurate with hiring someone of the required calibre to deliver this vital undertaking.”

The Mayor is happy to talk about tackling top pay, but when push comes to shove he will always compete with the private sector. So why not use public sector spending power to exert some influence on private sector pay?

Crossrail sits within Transport for London, which manages contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds. Nose around the first release of TfL spending open data and you can find well over £110 million paid out to bus operators; £34m to Eversheds Llp for legal services; more than £8m to Serco for outsourced services including Cycle Hire; and much more. All in the space of one month.

Many of those companies are probably creating the competition for very highly paid managers and executives. Why not use these hugely valuable contracts to try and extract concessions on pay transparency? The “disinfectant of sunlight” could be a small step towards slowing the inflation-busting rise in top pay that the majority, stuck on frozen living standards, can only watch aghast.

I’m asking the Mayor for lots more data on procurement to get a more detailed picture, and I’ll be asking him to explore this idea. At the very least, it would make his professed concern about high pay a little more than lip service.

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