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MAN OF THE YEAR?

11-11-2006

News that a Birmingham shop stewardpicksup 91K a year for repairing street lights has caused a stir nationally as well as locally. Amid all the outrage, Dave Woodhall has found a hero...and a few new enemies.

Onto my list of heroes - which includes the likes of Muhammed Ali, Brian Little and Joe Strummer - a new name has been entered. Step forward Ian Smith; union official, street-light repairer and bete noire of the easily-disgusted for picking up 91 grand a year despite doing not a jot of work for almost two years.

Everyone knows the story. Ian gets this huge wage because of some badly-drafted agreement between the council and Amicus, his union. Then, because he's on the sick he doesn't actually do anything for it. It's the sort of saga that causes outrage and makes me laugh very loud indeed. Because let's face it, we'd all pull a stroke like that if we could get away with it, wouldn't we?

Okay, so it shouldn't have been allowed to get to this stage. Birmingham council taxpayers are entitled to be a bit annoyed that they have to pay the wages of Ian and his colleagues. But that doesn't excuse the witch-hunt that the local press have been engaged in since the story broke.

It's not right that Ian's wife, Denise, and his home were recently photographed on the front page of the Birmingham Mail. As she says, they've done nothing wrong, yet they're being hounded like criminals. The Smiths have received abusive phone calls, been threatened in their own home, and there was the recent development where city council vans had to be disguised because of threats made to employees. Perhaps the editor of the Mail might care to reflect on how much of this intimidation has been caused as a result of his newspaper's scandal-mongering.

The Mail's star columnist, Karren Brady, also had her say on the matter. Ms Brady was, as you'd expect, critical of the whole affair. Of the fact that recent figures show that directors earn up to 83 times the salary of their employees, Ms Brady was less condemnatory. “Bosses are 83 times more valuable than their employees,” was her reply. I'm sure the staff of the many companies Ms Brady is paid by will be gratified to know her opinion of them.

Because Karren Brady not only earns a reported £250,000 salary as managing director of Birmingham City, she fits this part-time job around her other commitments as a director of Mothercare, Sport England and Channel 4, chair of Kerrang Radio, her regular attempts to re-start a media career, work as a writer and speaking engagements.

Just in case you might still think the Brady household is on the breadline, Brady's husband, Paul Peschisolido, has earned several million pounds during a football career mainly spent failing to tear up any trees in the Football League.

So, it's alright to make a fortune if you're a boss. You can have as many jobs as you like, earn a fortune, but woe betide an employee who finds a way of being paid more than the going rate.

Ian Smith, never mind what the small minds might think, I salute you. Getting one over on the Man is always worthy of recognition. Annoying the Woman is a nice bonus.

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