In recent days, both the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph have been on their high horses about charities paying their chief executives more than a £100,000 a year. One Mail columnist worked himself up into a fervour, putting the boot into the “hideous hypocrisy” of the charity fat cats.
But I can’t help noticing a bit of hypocrisy on the part of the papers too. They don’t like charities spending money on staff, but they don’t seem to mind their own chief executives trousering some eye-watering sums.
The Telegraph turns over £343m a year, pretty similar to the income of Oxfam, but its highest-paid director gets £800,000 – seven times as much as the chief executive of Oxfam. The Telegraph accounts on Companies House, though, don’t give the slightest idea who this lucky person is. We asked the Telegraph, but it didn’t tell us.
The Mail is a bit more transparent. Its highest-paid director, the editor, Paul Dacre, is paid £1.8m – more than every Disasters Emergency Committee chief executive put together, and more than 50 times as much as the average Briton.
And yet, according to the Mail’s columnist, no one needs to pay that much to attract talent. The idea that you have to pay good money to get the best people is just the “jaded defence of over-paid corporate plutocrats”.
So I rang both papers to ask why their senior executives were paid more than charity chief executives. Did they think that it was more difficult to run a paper than a charity, or did they think that working for a charity is so much more rewarding that you only need to be paid a fraction of the salary? Would those directors be prepared themselves to take a pay cut to work for charity? How much would a charity have to pay to get them as a chief executive?
Alas, I’m yet to receive an answer…
My personal view, as an Oxfam donor, is that since it’s got £300m a year to spend on making the world a better place, I’d want someone making sure it’s spent properly. I’d want to get the best person for the job, not the cheapest. I’d probably want to pay what it took to get them.
Of course, rather than hiring the best man or woman for the job, Oxfam could pick up, for a knock-down price, an “astute businessman at the end of their career” – another suggestion from the Mail.
Why did Oxfam not think of this? It’s foolishly been paying more than it needed to because it didn’t think to snap up all some clapped-out old fellow on his way to the golf course. The trustees could probably save £50,000 – a whole 0.01667% of their annual budget – by using this clever stratagem. Of course, your new chief executive wouldn’t know what they’re doing, but hey - you’re a charity, not a newspaper.