Police Pay - The Worst Of Both Worlds

Is this what you want?

So just let me make sure I've got this right. We're paying our policemen better than they've ever been paid, yet they're going on strike (or at least, intending to come down en masse with Blue Flu).

Having perused the stats, we can confirm they're certainly well paid. According to the Office for National Statistics, your typical copper at sergeant and below now earns £36,700 pa (ASHE April 2007; T 14.7a, full-time median). That compares with economy-wide median pay of £24,000 (ft median). So the cops get a premium of 50%.

Back in 1997, the same typical copper got about £24,000, so his pay has gone up by over 53%. Since prices have only increased by 17% (CPI), that means a 30% increase in real pay. And in 1997, the economy-wide median pay was £16,700, so the police premium was "only" 44% (ASHE 1997).

With police pay up by 53% and average pay only up 44%, the relative position of the police has improved significantly. Here's the picture:

And on top of their cash in the hand pay, there's that gold plated pension. Whereas for most employees final salary pensions are now a distant pre-Labour dream, the police still enjoy index-linked final salary pensions and retirement at 50. These days that's worth at least 30% on top of declared salary (eg see this blog).

So we'd say Labour has done pretty well by the police (and see here for Reform analysis).

Especially considering we taxpayers have done much less well. Despite all that extra cash, police efficiency levels have plumbed new depth (see this blog). According to the latest report into police funding from the Home Affairs Select Committee, since Labour took over, total police funding has increased by 40% in real terms. And although some crimes have fallen, the serious crimes we really worry about haven't. Moreover, much of the overall fall has had nothing to do with the police. As the Committee notes:

"In the case of both vehicle crime and burglary, improvements in security—far more than any government action—have probably been a significant contributor to overall falls... Excluding successes on burglary and vehicle theft, there has been a more mixed picture in tackling overall crime, particularly given the increase in resources available to the police. For example, between 2002–03 and 2005–06 violent crime as measured by the police recorded crime statistics showed a 21% increase..."

So if you were a cop, your best bet would be to think "thank you very much" and shut your gob. You certainly shouldn't be drawing attention to yourself by going down with a dose of Blue Flu. Because as the firefighters discovered, the public often have no idea what public employees get paid these days, and when they find out they can turn nasty.

But that aside, how is it possible for the police to have been paid all this money and still be so hacked off? How on earth have we ended up the worst of both worlds?

No prizes for guessing the answer I'm afraid: this government has been unspeakably incompetent in managing public sector pay. Right across the public sector they've given us the classic boom-bust cycle: years of huge uplift, followed by a sudden halt.

From the nurses to the police, they ladled out great dollops of cash during the fat years, getting virtually nothing in return. And, who could possibly have guessed, the recipients got habitualised to it.

So now the cash has run out there's a real problem. Just like there was the last time we came to the fag end of a grand socialist feeding binge. That particular fag end came to be known as the 1970s, which not only gave us the three day week and Red Robbo, but also- less forgivably- the kipper tie, tank tops, and the Rollers. Is that what you want to see again?

When your correspondent was involved in the nightmare of setting pay and bonuses for his co-workers, he soon discovered a Golden Rule: never give anyone so much in one year, that you may need to slash it again the following. Remember there are fat and lean years, and try to think longer-term. You ignore that at your peril: you can so easily end up with staff who are both highly paid and extremely hacked off at the same time.

So why hasn't the public sector discovered that?

And while you're at it, why can't those expensive pigs fly?

PS FYI, the median pay of senior police officers (inspector level and above) is now £52,925 pa (plus pension and, er, expenses). Back in 1997 it was £34,880, an increase of 52%. The latest salaries of the very top cops are listed here. EG: Met Commisioner - £234,939; Met Deputy Commissioner - £193,959; Chief Constable of Greater Manchester - £163,908. And none of them are accountable to us taxpayers.

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