Monday, November 09, 2015

Salaries & Pensions; Freedom of speech; English words; & A Dutch treat.

SALARIES & PENSIONS: In the UK more than 500 council leaders earn more than the Prime Minister. But this is nothing compared to Spain, where a specious level of government leads to astronomical local salaries. But the real money goes to EU bureaucrats, of course. See the end of this post for a Times leader today.

FREEDOM OF SPEECH: In our comfortable, I-am society, where priorities are not what they were in previous generations, this appears to be of ever-reducing importance. So it was good to see a (young!) man on TV this morning saying that "Fear of being offended is the greatest gift of free speech. It should start a conversation, not end it". Brilliant.

BRITISH OR AMERICAN ENGLISH?: When I was a kid, a truck was a 'lorry'. I thought this word had died off, so I was pleased to see it in a headline on Sky News. It's pronounced 'lurry' in parts of the North, by the way. But not by me.

FINALLY . . . A DUTCH TREAT: A cache of unopened 17th century letters has been found in Holland. See here for the fascinating details.


Forget the chocolates, the beer and the moules frites. The most rewarding way to pass the time in Brussels is to sit behind a desk at the commission, the council, the parliament or indeed any of the EU’s principal institutions, accruing years in their extraordinarily generous and expensive pension schemes.

As we report today, the EU’s total pension liabilities ballooned by £8.6 billion in 2013-14, bringing the longterm cost to British taxpayers — who like all European taxpayers contribute to the comfortable twilight years of their Brussels-based civil servants — to £5 billion.

The main reason for this rapid inflation is that whereas civil servants elsewhere, and notably in Britain, have been forced in recent years to contribute more to their pensions and receive less when they retire, for Eurocrats the reverse is true. They are, on average, contributing less and ending up with more.

Whatever happens to ever closer union, Britain has been hopeless at slowing the momentum towards ever comfier retirement. Last year we tried and failed to prevent a reduction from 11.6 to 10.6 per cent in the amount EU staff pay into their own pensions. At the same time the proportion retiring on elsewhere-unheard-of schemes paying out 70 per cent of final salaries is to rise by 4 per cent.

By way of comparison, British civil servants consider themselves fortunate still to retire on fixed-benefit schemes, but after steep cuts earlier this year those benefits amount to just 17 or 18 per cent of their final salaries, depending on when they joined the civil service.

The indulgent Brussels data, found by The Times buried in the latest EU accounts, was dismissed by a spokeswoman as an accounting exercise distorted by low interest rates. Which just goes to show that exercise is good for you

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