NHS pay divide remedy sought

IN many respects, Karen Jackson is the human face of the NHS and those well-remunerated executives whose salary levels have come under fire from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt after he cautioned against the introduction of a BBC-style “culture of excessive pay and pay-offs”.

The chief executive of Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, she became “public enemy number one” when it emerged that she had accepted a £25,000 pay increase – taking her salary to £170,000 – before her hospitals were placed in special measures by the Keogh review.

Yet her comments today are critical to understanding the shortcomings in Mr Hunt’s intervention – and the Health Secretary’s failure to recognise that executive pay is a complex issue which requires a more substantial remedy than this.

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To her credit, Ms Jackson – the daughter of a steelworker – says her pay is “an extraordinary amount of money”. But she points out that she is ultimately accountable for the performance of the whole Trust; she is in charge of 7,000 staff and that £170,000 is the “going rate”.

This is reflected by Mr Hunt’s desire to cap the number of managers in health-related quangos who earn more than £100,000. There is a world of difference between those managers who are actually running hospitals on a day-to-day basis and, for example, the 48 senior figures at outside bodies who earn in excess of David Cameron’s salary of £142,500 without having to treat a patient. This anomaly, so typical of the BBC, does need to be ended.

But the Health Secretary should consider the pay issue from the perspective of patients. They would like to see the Government doing far more to reward front line staff like nurses and cleaners. The unsung heroes of the Health Service, they have seen their salaries stagnate because of Treasury-imposed wage restraint. Yet, despite this, Mr Hunt is powerless to prevent NHS trusts from signing off above-inflation awards for senior executives.

That is why Ms Jackson’s salary attracted so much scrutiny – it smacked of double standards and many will regret the Health Secretary’s decision not to implement even more radical surgery than that intimated by his politicking.

Energy scandal

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THE only surprise in the Age UK survey that reveals one in four pensioners are worried about keeping themselves warm this winter is that the figure is not far higher.

Often existing on a limited, fixed income, with little or no opportunity to increase the level of money that is coming in, the over 65s are among the most susceptible to above-inflation hikes in their energy bills.

Today, the chief executives of the “Big Six” suppliers will be asked by members of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee as to how their latest round of increases can be justified.

As always they will hide behind the excuses that they are the result of higher wholesale costs, increased costs in delivering energy to customers’ homes, and the effect of the levy charged to companies to fund environmental measures.

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Yet the human cost of such price increases – underlined by the Age UK poll – demands that the obfuscation and evasiveness that pervades the energy sector no longer goes unchallenged.

The charity estimates that in a city the size of Leeds, four elderly people a day will die this winter as a result of the cold as they face the grim task of deciding whether to “heat or eat”.

For too long the elderly, vulnerable and every other bill-payer has been left at the mercy of a half-dozen major providers who have the power to increase prices at a whim and with apparent impunity – and, cynically, almost invariably at the onset of winter.

Today must mark the beginning of the end of the stranglehold that they exert over the market if such a scandalous situation is to be finally put to a stop, with the first steps made toward far-reaching and long overdue reform of the energy sector.

Winning form

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AS well as their stunning scenery, there is one other reason why Yorkshire, Scotland and Brazil rank so prominently on the Lonely Planet’s list of regions and countries to visit in 2014 – sport.

Top tourist locations, they will benefit from hosting the Tour de France’s Grand Départ, Commonwealth Games and football World Cup next summer – three sporting events that will attract international media coverage and global TV audiences running into the billions.

As such, the travel guide’s verdict shows the economic spin-offs that can be derived from the successful staging of major sporting events, as well as the importance of inspiring role models like Jessica Ennis-Hill, Nicola Adams and the Brownlee brothers.

“If the good people of Yorkshire were proud of their heritage before, the 2012 London Olympics 
only served to cement what they have always thought: that their county is better than – and really the best of – all the English counties,” states the Lonely Planet’s editorial.

It is a gold medal endorsement that buys priceless publicity for the region, and vindicates Welcome to Yorkshire’s decision to enter – and then win – the race to host next summer’s Grand Départ.