John Street’s Diary

Written By: John Street
Published: February 28, 2017 Last modified: February 27, 2017

The winner takes it all
The first list in the Labour Research Department’s new reporting season on the latest pay packages given to top executives at stock exchange-quoted companies covers 28 executives at 14 companies that had a remuneration package of over £1 million. The total paybill came to £68.37 million. Richard Cousins has been chief executive (CEO) of contract services group Compass for 10 years. His first full-year package as CEO came to £2.23 million and last year it came to £5.82 million – a 161% rise over the decade. Over the same period, average earnings in the whole economy have risen by 15%. Alison Cooper became CEO at tobacco multinational Imperial Brands in 2010. Her first full-year package came to £1.91 million, while last year it totalled £5.53 million – a 290.6% increase. Over the same period, average earnings in the whole economy have only risen by 9.5%. Another Compass executive, Gary Green, took third spot with a £4.13 million package in his role as chief operating office for the group’s US operations. Year-on-year comparisons could be made for 24 executives and 15 saw their packages grow over the last two financial years. Steve Hare, chief financial officer at software group Sage, topped the rises with a 193.4% hike taking his package to £3.13 million last year. One of the City’s top fund managers has warned that executive pay is already “too high” and investors are ready to take a tough line with firms that present plans to boost bosses’ remuneration. David Cumming, head of equities at Standard Life, said his firm “could not justify” pay going any higher. He told the BBC’s Today programme: “We continue to see too many proposals that would bring a substantial increase [in pay], and we have to signal that we are not happy with that.”

One of us
Former Tory speechwriter Daniel Finkelstein has continued to chronicle how party managers get it wrong when courting celebrity endorsements. There was “the time when Mike Yarwood, Mike Read and Rick Wakeman made special guest appearances at the Conservative Party conference. The same year, Labour’s special guest was Nelson Mandela.”
Dancing queen
The latest ComRes poll found that people agreed by 45% to 39% that John Bercow was right to refuse to invite Donald Trump to address the Commons, but also that people thought by 47% to 37% that the Queen should meet Donald Trump if he visits the country. The British public have little sympathy for Trump’s immigration policy (33% think he was right, 52% think he was wrong) though it’s worth noting that the question wording went considerably wider than Trump’s actual policy. (ComRes asked about halting immigration from “Muslim-majority” countries in general, whereas Trump’s policy deals with seven specific countries they claim have an issue with terrorism or vetting).

Money, money, money
The government has named and shamed 359 businesses which have failed to pay the National Minimum Wage (NMW). They had collectively underpaid 15,513 workers a total of £994,685. Employers in the hairdressing, hospitality and retail sectors were the most prolific offenders, but some care homes were also notable. The largest sum was recovered from high street department store Debenhams which had to repay £134,895 to 11,858 workers. Osteria San Lorenzo, an Italian restaurant close to Harrods, failed to pay £53,497 to 29 workers. Its sister restaurant, based in Wimbledon, featured in the last list of shame in August 2016 when it was revealed 30 staff were owed £99,542. Other well-known names included: a Sheffield-based Subway sandwich store which owed £3,729 to 18 workers; a Lloyds Pharmacy in Coventry which failed to pay one worker £111; and St Mirren Football Club, which failed to pay one worker £1,277. Revenue and Customs issued penalties worth around £800,000. For the first time, the list includes employers who failed to pay eligible workers at least the National Living Wage rate, which is currently £7.20 an hour for workers aged 25 and over. The Office for National Statistics has calculated that 362,000 jobs did not pay the NMW in April 2016. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This should be a wake-up call for employers who value their reputation. If you cheat your staff out of the minimum wage you will be named and shamed. Minimum wage dodgers must have nowhere to hide. We need to see strong unions in every workplace to stop these abuses from happening.””

Should I laugh or cry
Rhian Daley, of VOS NME, blogged in advance of their prestigious Villain of the Year awards: “It’s an almost impossible task to choose who deserves the dubious award most. In previous years, the likes of Harry Styles and Kanye West have been named. They’ve got nothing on this year’s nominees, all of whom have done their bit to make the world a worse place. Will you vote for bumbling Boris or cowardly Cameron? The man whose Twitter account is most likely to start WWIII or someone (Katie Hopkins)who gets paid to write heinous and often untrue columns condemning anyone who dares not to be as grotesque as her? The privileged businessman with no moral compass or last year’s smirking buffoon of a winner?” In the event, Nigel Farage beat Donald Trump to the top spot.

The king has lost his crown
Another also-ran was pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli. Daley wrote of him: “It will be hard to out-evil his move to jack up the prices of AIDS medication Daraprim by 5,556 per cent. In case you thought that disgusting act was a one-off, though, he’s been proving that it definitely was not. He was banned from Twitter for harassing a female journalist. ‘He has been harassing me for a while. It’s an ongoing thing,’ Teen Vogue writer Lauren Duca told Buzzfeed News. ‘He’s been actively tweeting about dating me. I don’t know if he’s encouraging people to do this, but there’s been a small contingent of trolls telling me to sleep with him — but not that politely.’ Duca also posted screenshots of Shkreli’s Twitter cover photo, where he had Photoshopped his face onto the journalist’s partner’s. Last year, after being told he was to face trial for charges of defrauding investors in hedge funds that he ran, Shkreli reportedly asked his lawyer ‘Can I play Pokeman Go now?’ That and the fact he seemed willing to destroy the Wu-Tang album he paid $2 million for show him for what he is – a privileged moron who thinks because he appreciate the wealth he has or seem to care about the consequences of his actions.”

Take a chance on me
The outcome of Unite’s general secretaryship contest will be announced on April 28, but already its turning bloody. Supporters of challenger Gerald Coyne are claiming that incumbent Len McCluskey, perhaps best known as a regular Tribune columnist, reneged on an earlier promise to stand down when he was 65. He was born in 1950. Some elements of the Left were also dismayed by his January comments that Jeremy Corbyn could step down if Labour’s fortunes do not improve before the next general election in 2020. Coyne accused him of issuing a “public ultimatum” and trying to be “Labour’s puppet master”. However, a veteran Unite observer predicted that McCluskey will win, albeit “by a whisker.”

Chasing rainbows
HMRC’s role in policing failure to pay the minimum wage has been criticised by Roger Lilley, one of two newspaper delivery workers who received the biggest pay-out yet for breaches by Midcounties Co-op. “Our case took over 300 days to resolve,” he said. “Our evidence did not carry nearly as much weight as the employer. HMRC were not at all on our side.” Lilley has written to business secretary, Greg Clarke, to complain about “yawning gaps of non-disclosure” in the investigative process and a lack of information about how the repayment had been calculated between the employer and HMRC.

About John Street

John Street is Tribune’s diary columnist.