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7 February 2013

33 I have found a
new job for
Walter Humes

Walter Humes should decide what we're all paid
Photograph by Islay McLeod

I always enjoy reading Walter Humes' pieces as he is such a polite iconoclast. Like him, as an ex-academic I have suffered from the excesses of self-styled 'charismatic leaders' or 'extrovert loudmouths' as we might both prefer to describe them. He is surely right to imply that in the current era, ability is frequently found in inverse proportion to self-belief. However, there is perhaps more that we can do to neutralise these 'blustering narcissists', as Walter elegantly describes them, than turning off the TV. I have a modest proposal which might at some future time assist with challenging the gross inequalities which David Donnison (31 January) points out are still rife in the current United Kingdom.

When I was much younger I worked in what was then called 'personnel', a rather more benign concept than the human resource management which replaced it – but that's another story. The engineering company where I worked had a job evaluation scheme, which determined the relative position in the salaries pecking order of all the jobs in the place. There were – as there always are – examples of unfairness in this company but the evaluation of jobs was not usually one of them as the process was carried out by a committee of people. There were representatives from personnel, the trade union, the specific job holder and her boss, together with a couple of independent assessors. All got together to discuss where they felt specific jobs fitted in the scheme of things, and attempted to come to agreement. As far as I recall, the personnel manager's decision was final, but there was an appeal process. More often than not we got it about right.

It has often struck me that such a system could be adopted at a national level. It would be impossible to implement in Britain just now as a) it would be too administratively cumbersome and b) there is currently a plethora of extrovert loudmouths in public life who would have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. But in an independent Scotland it might be an interesting exercise to carry out – the results could determine not just salary limits but possibly also the amount of individual tax payable. Is the job of a TV 'celebrity' worth more than that of a carer in a nursing home? Should an investment banker be paid more than a community GP?

Maybe a national job evaluation panel would decide yes in each case, but at least the arguments would be transparent and the results the responsibility of the whole nation. And perhaps Walter Humes would care to take on the role of panel chairperson?

Mary Brown

1 I watched a frank and somewhat 'not in my backyard' debate among the panellists and audience on the subject of the storage or dumping of nuclear waste on the BBC's 'Question Time' (31 January). After humming and hawing towards a predictable inability to locate any remotely suitable place anywhere in England, a member of the audience came away with this crass, tactless, but most significant remark: 'Why not dump it all in Scotland and then give them independence?'.

Perhaps even worse than this statement in itself was the near unanimous rapturous applause with which it was received, nay acclaimed, by the Lancastrian audience. The telling word in that question is surely 'them', so far removed from the unifying 'us'.

An echo of a 1970s mantra entered my mind: 'The UK rules OK', but does it, can it, if it is indeed inhabited by them and us? Dounreay no more, as The Proclaimers might have trilled. Even, we can but hope, Faslane no more, where Caithness and the Firth of Clyde are no longer asked to house these lethal nuclear materials, for which no English county or firth found it possible to release a dump.

While the firths of Thames and the Severn, Humber, Tyne and Tees remain safely nuclear-free, Caithness still faces the lasting legacy of it nuclear past and the Clyde bears its present brunt. But what of the Mersey, whose quality, pace Shakespeare, hopefully is not strained, for if it is then God have Mersey upon them all.

Ian Petrie

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