• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

True talent won't leave UK under fairer tax system

It seems that the Manchester United footballer Wayne Rooney will shortly sign a contract giving him £300,000 a week.

This is public knowledge because that is the way things are in top level football these days; negotiations are conducted in public, through the media, as much as in private.

Meanwhile, there is an increasingly bitter political controversy because Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are proposing a 50% income tax rate on those earning £150,000 a year (not a week). This proposal, which is hardly inflammatory, has prompted fury from many of those who speak on behalf of Britain's business community. I think they are exaggerating when they say that it would prove a huge disincentive for talent.

Performance and talent on the one hand, and remuneration on the other, do not always match up. Some relatively poorly paid, but not untalented, footballers clearly give far more in terms of effective effort each week than some of their far better remunerated colleagues. The same applies in the worlds of business, commerce and industry.

Even £150,000 a year, while peanuts to some supposed superstars, is an incredible sum for most workers. Many of them still struggle by on the minimum wage, or just above it. Even George Osborne is now saying that the minimum wage must be increased -- no doubt so that workers will have at least some sense that things are improving prior to next year's UK general election.

Apart from the extreme disparities which are grotesque and ultimately unacceptable in any mature and civilised society, it concerns me that some people who are paid fairly modestly for what they do - such as MPs and MSPs - seem to be resented more than anyone else. Not that long ago, British MPs were paid nothing, or very little; so they had either to be wealthy, or to be sponsored by a trade union or a co-operative society or the like.

Ever since MPs have been paid, there has been an unrealistic bitterness about their remuneration for what should be, and in most cases is, an onerous, insecure and responsible job.

The resentment reached fever pitch in 2009, following revelations about various MPs' expenses fiddles (some of which were not in fact fiddles, but were technically legitimate). Why should a national legislator be paid so much less than, say, a general practitioner? And why should a leading footballer be paid so much more than either?

There are so-called reasons: market forces, for one, and the priorities of our wider society. But if it is acceptable for a footballer to be paid £300,000 a week when the prime minister of the UK earns much less in a year, I am certain that our values are skewed.

Back in the real world, two-thirds of Scottish businesses are set (according to the Barclays Employers' Survey) to increase salaries and wages in the coming year. And not before time: most employees in most jobs have endured a tough period. Indeed, I'm surprised at how stoical people have been, and at the general loss of union militancy.

In return for this restraint, I think we need as a society - and this applies to both the UK as a whole and of course to Scotland - to create, at long last, a really effective Fair Remuneration Commission which, no doubt controversially, would first be more concerned with pay at the (alleged) top than the bottom.

I'm tired of hearing that so many talented high- fliers would decamp abroad if they had to pay more in tax. Let them.

I don't think the rest of us would suffer, economically or socially. I also understand that many businessmen will regard this as impossibly naïve.

Yet I know that right now, many of our most talented graduates are increasingly choosing relatively poorly paid vocational work - such as teaching - instead of much more highly paid private sector work. Meanwhile, our society desperately needs two things: a fairer tax take and in return, an emphasis on public spending that is just, focused and above all, not wasteful.

Contextual targeting label: 
Business

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

208636