O Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? 
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?…

I must admit to being a bit of a Janis Joplin fan!

But, over the last few days since the ‘resignation’ of the Vice Chancellor of the University of Bath my mind has turned to cars. I think that the reason is that the erstwhile V.C. has had her £31,000 ‘car loan’ written off as part of her ‘resignation’ package.

In a funny way there are similarities between clergy and vice chancellors; hear me out! Both should be interested in teaching and learning. Both presumably entered their chosen field out of a sense of vocation. Both have their pay and rations set through a system of governance. And, in the case of the Bath V.C., both receive grace and favour accommodation. Okay, the Bath V.C. was provided with a ‘flat’ in Bath’s Royal Crescent whilst your average cleric lives in a 1970’s vicarage (although I am sometimes embarrassed at the size of the vicarage we live in when compared to the size of the homes I visit). I am sure that the argument will be made that the V.C. has to entertain, but surely the university has a senate building equipped with private dining facilities? If it doesn’t there are plenty of facilities for hire in Bath. Why does the V.C. require a grace and favour ‘flat.’ I presume that when your average academic moves to a new place of work, just like your average employee in any sector, they have to pick up the tab for their accommodation?

Like the Bath V.C. I too have a car loan! But, it is not interest free and, if I were to resign the Church Commissioners aren’t go to write off the value of the ‘loan.’ Someone, somewhere, is going to have to pick up the tabs for the interest that the V.C. isn’t paying, and the capital value of the loan being written off. Who? Anyway, why on earth, under what rationale, is it reasonable to provide someone who is payed in excess of £450k with an interest free car loan?  Surely like your average employee a vice chancellor should fund their own means of transport?

A myth is frequently perpetuated to support the payment of huge salaries, supplemented by significant ‘fringe’ benefits. The myth is that star employees work in a global market place. Now like all myths there is some truth in this and, some industries are truly global (football for instance) but, there is also a whole lot of rubbish spoken whenever the ‘global market place’ narrative is told, for only a tiny, teeny-weeny, fraction of employees are genuinely free and able to participate in the ‘global market’ for talent. (Theoretically all C of E clergy are equipped to work globally in other provinces in the Anglican Communion, just out of interest).

A few years back when I worked in the investment management industry (another industry that validates the huge salaries it pays using ‘global talent market place theory’)a ‘colleague’  came in one day are resigned. He had accepted a job overseas. He was very excited and bragged about his new package. The next day he came into the office and asked if he could withdraw his resignation. The problem was that he hadn’t told his wife about his new job. His wife didn’t share his excitement, neither was she seduced by the dosh. What she cared about, it transpired, was the place where she lived, the friendships she and her children had made, proximity to her parents and so forth. Notions of family and community overrode the enticements of the ‘global market place!’

As Christians family, community, solidarity and friendship should be our concerns. Yes, pay senior staff well, but lets do so in a way that recognizes their ability and contribution without alienating them from their colleagues and the constituency they serve.

Let me finish with a plea to the Church Commissioners: if you are minded to offer me an interest free car loan please may I have a Mercedes Benz?

 

 

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