The recent witch hunt of Stephen Hester, the chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, throws up some interesting questions about bonuses and fairness.
Announced that he would receive almost a million pounds’ worth of shares in a bonus agreement, Hester became the target of both the media and politicians.
RBS is 82 per cent owned by the taxpayer. Not surprisingly there was mass outrage as Hester, who as it was vocally pointed out is effectively no more than a public servant, received such a phenomenal bounty. He has since decided against taking the bonus. The baying mob then turned their attention to former RBS boss Fred Goodwin, who last week was stripped off his knighthood. No doubt another target will be in their crosshairs by now.
I found it revoltingly hypocritical to watch Ed Miliband tsk-tsking about Hester’s bonus. Mr Milliband conveniently forgot he was part of the cabinet that not only appointed the RBS chief, but also signed off his generous bonus agreement. No wonder we increasingly treat our political elite with disdain.
The best bonus I ever received was at the end of the first year of my first full-time job. I was working as a customer services co-ordinator for the yearly stipend of £9,500.
I excelled in this role; my telephone manner was exemplary I was told, and feedback from customers had been first-class.
My December pay packet held a bonus of £350.
I was over the moon and promptly went out and bought a new stereo system (well, this was 20 years ago).
As far as I am concerned I deserved that bonus. I believe that rewarding staff for going above and beyond is the right thing to do in all sectors. But where do you draw the line?
Would you begrudge a nurse on £24,000 a bonus at the end of the year?
Given that nurses are paid by the taxpayer and you believe public money should not be used to underwrite bonuses, then the answer should surely be no.
On the other hand, the chief executive of Brentwood and Essex Council picked up a bonus of nearly £7,000.
So who is worthier of a publicly-funded bonus, the council chief or the nurse?
There are also rumblings about the high level of bonuses paid out in the private sector, especially in the financial industry.
And while all this goes on, nobody seems to bat an eyelid that footballers such as Wayne Rooney are pulling in a reported £250,000 a week.
The topic of bonuses is now impossible to discuss rationally because of the Hester case.
Political rhetoric, envy and the screeching media all make it a toxic topic.
It does make you wonder if the baying mob have got their priorities right and what (if any) is a fair cap to place on pay or bonuses in the future.
** Do you agree with Duncan? Join the debate and let us know YOUR thoughts.