Northampton charity chief's wage irked you, but why are we obsessed with the pay of CEOs?

Terrible. Awful. Disgusting.

Wednesday, 19th October 2016, 7:06 am
Updated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 6:24 pm
Gil Baldwin

And these some of the kinder terms used by readers giving their opinions on the latest salary figures for the chiefs at St Andrew’s Hospital.

Denigration was heaped on the board of the Northampton-based mental health charity who, it was revealed, could count among them nine members who earned more than £200,000.

Chief executive Gil Baldwin had to endure some particularly feisty criticism of his own package, which saw him pocket £489,000.

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In fact readers were not being very charitable at all.

These are, after all, bewildering pay packets, sums most of us will take decades to achieve.

But should we be so harsh on the leaders who earn them in a year?

St Andrew’s itself commented to the effect that world-class services need world-class leaders.

Taken on size and specialisms alone, the Billing Road hospital is at the very least Europe-class, being the continent’s largest mental health campus and treating several types of patients exclusively.

But it was not how well the directors did their jobs that seemed to be at issue.

Two main things seemingly irked the public about this story.

The first is the charitable status of St Andrew’s. Although run like a successful business, it is ostensibly not for profit.

To the public, this not only means that all money made be should ploughed into mental health treatments rather than shareholders; for much the same reason, cash should also not be finding its way in large amounts to the wallets of its employees.

It should, public opinion had it, always be spent paying the needed numbers of nurses and treating needy patients.

Whether it is realistic to run such a specialist site (one which contains secure patients who have committed crimes) without the best staff money can buy - or whether this logical conclusion is what we want - is barely discussed.

Capitalism, or what looks like it, should not be mixed up with the pure aims of a charity, seemed to be the argument.

But what poured petrol on this bonfire was the added information that St Andrew’s funding - or 98 per cent of it - comes from the NHS. In other words, taxpayers’ money was being funnelled into the pockets of St Andrew’s bosses via our sainted health service.

Comparisons were then inevitably drawn between the salary of the woman who leads the country and the man who leads a hospital.

The Prime Minister famously earns £143,000 and her remuneration is a popular benchmark in these debates, and one dwarfed by Mr Baldwin’s wad.

But what about other leaders closer to home in Northamptonshire, whose wages are also paid by the tax payer?

Top of the pile is Julie Shepherd (£310,000), nursing director of the NHS’s own mental health trust (NHFT), who earns even more than her ultimate boss, Angela Hillery (£285,000).

(Incidentally, this is not as uncommon as you might think, with police commissioner Stephen Mold unable to earn more than his capped salary – a mere £70,00 – while at least one one member of his staff already earns more and the top bracket is £78,000.)

Next in the list, healthcare is again represented in the person of Dr Sonia Swart, chief of Northampton General Hospital, who earns £225,000.

County Hall boss Paul Blantern, with whom the buck stops for education, children, and the elderly earns £185,000 (or perhaps a little more - bizarely, given the sums involved, all the official papers are uniformly coy on those last five thousand pounds).

So we can see here that those on the books of the Government are well paid too. But why is it that the St Andrew’s salaries seem somehow obscene to people?

Could this be an issue of


All of the county leaders mentioned can be got rid of by a public body in some way if they perform poorly.

But Mr Baldwin, like predecessor Professor Philip Sugarman (who was paid £751,000 – including enhancements – in his final year, in which he retired due to ill health) is accountable only to trustees.

In other words, more lolly and no liability.

Which would all be fine, too, if everyone were happy with the hospital’s performance.

But last month, Care Quality Commission inspectors rated it ‘requires improvement’ for the second time in a row.

Although some of the issues are readily solvable, there were also many commenters who claimed to be current or former employees and were adamant that St Andrew’s Hospital is still grossly understaffed.

So, in this particular case, the toxic brew of charity bosses getting tax payers’ money for overseeing an underperforming service with, allegedly, too few staff is a potent one.

But the wider questions it raises are interesting ones, many about our own attitudes to pay and public service.

Are we prepared to allow good managers to earn the going rate for running essential services?

Or do we demand selfless duty and lower pay before we even think about value for money?

What Chronicle & Echo readers had to say

“At the end of the day, the money they’re putting in their pocket is money they take out of the patients’.”

“And all this on a charity that has 30 or 40 million pounds profits a year. Thats is why they go on spending spree, building more and more wards, refurnishing old wards time and time again.”

“The executives’ pay and rewards are determined by a separate panel made up of GOVERNORS. Who actually understand how the world works.”

“Since when did quality of the leadership matter above quality of service and value for money in a hospital?”

“I guess many of the staff reading this news feels sick. We all know that people on top... only deal with numbers.”

“What is most shocking, being a charity, is the lack of accountability.”