It’s gratifying when a boss is keen to buy his company’s products, but it’s not so impressive when he’s been offered an incentive of several hundred thousand pounds to do so.
The company is Taylor Wimpey and the boss in question is its well-remunerated chief executive, Pete Redfern.
One of the highest-paid executives in the country, Redfern was planning to expand his personal property empire by snapping up a luxury apartment in a nine-storey Taylor Wimpey-built block in central London.
The original asking price for the apartment, which is next door to Lambeth Palace and boasts views of the Houses of Parliament and the Thames, was £2.48 million (€2.9 million).
But Redfern was offered the chance to buy it at a price of £2.04 million, a discount of £440,000. Not surprisingly, shareholders have voiced their disapproval that a chief executive who is on course for a pay package of more than £4 million this year should be offered such a lucrative perk.
To give Taylor Wimpey credit, at least the company acted quickly after details of the sweetheart property deal became public. On Tuesday, Redfern scrapped his plans to buy the apartment, with the company describing his move as “a personal decision”.
That decision will, of course, have been influenced by the prospect of an embarrassing backlash from shareholders at the Taylor Wimpey annual meeting later this week.
Ahead of the meeting, investor lobby groups had voiced their disapproval, with one describing it as “a massive, unconditional and completely gratuitous bonus”.
Corporate bonus bonanza
And the housebuilding industry certainly knows a thing or two about gratuitous bonuses. After all, it's not that long ago that the chief executive of Persimmon lost his job after being publicly shamed for his £110 million slice of Britain's biggest-ever corporate bonus bonanza, in which 150 senior executives at the group shared a windfall of £500 million.
The bonuses were fuelled by the government’s Help to Buy scheme, which has served not only to push up house prices but to boost builders’ profits – and their executives’ bonuses.
All Taylor Wimpey staff are offered discounts of up to 5 per cent but Redfern’s deal went way beyond that, apparently because it was judged that prices of similar properties had declined recently, in line with the rest of the London market.
There should surely be some limit to how big a discount senior staff members can claim. And it would be interesting to know whether ordinary staff members buying more modest properties in London are being offered bigger discounts too.
Taylor Wimpey shareholders had been due to vote on the Redfern property deal at Thursday’s annual meeting. That will not now be required, but the board would be wise to prepare itself for some questions on the subject.
Meanwhile, if anyone fancies an apartment in the group’s luxurious Palace View block, there are several are still available, priced from £1.2 million to £2.2 million. You could even try asking for a discount.
Doing the stats on nation’s chief number-cruncher
A Londoner relocating to Wales for work could swap a relatively modest semi-detached home in the capital for a seven-bed mansion complete with stables and a swimming pool.
Throw in a salary of £160,000 a year for the post of the nation’s chief number-cruncher and surely well-qualified candidates should be falling over themselves for the job?
Despite a lengthy search, however, the government has so far failed to find someone suitable to oversee the Office for National Statistics, which is based in the Welsh city of Newport, some 125 miles west of London.
That means the post will be left vacant when the current incumbent, John Pullinger, steps down as national statistician at the end of June, after five years in the post,
London to Newport
It’s a critical time for the ONS to be without a boss, particularly with a census looming in 2021. Now efforts are being redoubled to fill the vacancy, including considering overseas candidates.
And, apparently, for the right candidate, a move to Newport might not be mandatory.
It’s long been felt that the ONS suffered a loss of expertise when its main office was relocated from London to Newport in the late 2000s and the statistical body has been working hard to restore its reputation for reliability.
However it may not just be the location of the ONS that is deterring candidates. Although £160,000 is a high salary for a civil servant, it’s way below what someone might expect to earn in the private sector. The government may need to have another look at that figure.
Fiona Walsh is business editor of theguardian.com