Is This Britain’s Most Hypocritical Boss?

He wants to ‘rethink capitalism’ - except when it comes to his own employees.

by Simon Childs

22 February 2024

Andy Haldane, CEO of the RSA. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Andy Haldane, CEO of the RSA. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Former Bank of England chief economist and government levelling up adviser Andy Haldane took to Sky News last week to offer his wisdom on the economy, what with its sluggish growth, high inflation and ever-so-squeezed living standards. Wages are growing, but “people are still poorer than they were two or three years ago”, he warned.

During the interview, Sky News presenter Sophie Ridge raised the matter of Haldane’s employees at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) where he is now CEO, who have been asking for a pay rise since April 2023, but have been met with a “dismissive” and “disingenuous” approach, accounting to the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB).

“Do you have sympathy with the campaign for a pay rise?” she asked.

“There’s no question that across the whole country, there has been a big squeeze on pay packets,” Haldane flanneled, before expressing “huge sympathy for all the households and people whose pay packets have been squeezed, but ultimately, this is about affordability.”

I’m sure all the households and people across the whole country whose pay packets have been squeezed are grateful for the warm wishes of a man they’ve never met, but it’s a shame he didn’t specifically show sympathy for his own employees.

Haldane’s handling of the dispute and of his workers’ trade union activity has caused untold damage to the nominally progressive organisation.

Many RSA Fellows are dismayed and some have left. There has been an 82% staff turnover since April 2022 and RSA workers have taken strike action for the first time in history under Haldane’s tenure. In October 2023, an employment tribunal found the RSA guilty of unfair dismissal of a former employee for union activities.

Speakers including Yanis Varoufakis, George Monbiot and Chris Packham have boycotted it, while in December, RSA got further bad press when staff walked out after Israeli ambassador to the UK and infamously bad vibe Tzipi Hotovely was invited to speak at a pro-Israel event (RSA launched an investigation and claimed that the event had been “held by an external client who did not disclose the full event details in advance”).

This is all a bit embarrassing for the organisation which aims to unite “people and ideas to regenerate our world” and make “a unique global network of changemakers enabling people, places, and the planet to flourish in harmony.”

It’s not a great look for Haldane either. Known as a progressive thinker, he was listed on the New Statesman’s “Left power” list, which notes, “His past interventions have included praising the Occupy movement, warning of a regression to a ‘pre-industrial’ workforce and demanding a ‘fundamental rethink and refresh of our model of capitalism’.” Seemingly, he’s now thought about it, and decided that the current model is alright actually.

Back in 2017, he argued that declining union membership and “divide and rule” tactics had left workers less able to bargain for higher wages. This may seem ironic, but that was then (when he was making waves as a maverick chief economist at the Bank of England) and this is now (when he actually has to deal with workers in real life).

When pressed on the campaign by Ridge, Haldane said, “Ultimately what you need to do as a leader is ensure that the organisation is run on a financially sustainable basis… recklessness, ultimately, with pay, that causes financial stability problems is not good for anyone’s jobs or anyone’s pay packet.”

That sounds reasonable, although for balance, the IWGB point out that the 2023 RSA impact report says the organisation had £8.7m in reserves, suggesting that it could afford a pay rise.

And speaking of reckless pay, the report lists the number of staff paid from £180,000 to £190,000 as one – this figure was quietly corrected up from £120,000 to £130,000. It’s not exactly clear why, but at least one employee is not feeling the pinch right now. (Novara Media asked RSA whether the figure refers to Haldan’s salary, but it did not respond to that question.)

When Novara Media asked the RSA for a comment on these matters, it pointed us to a statement which says that, “Our aim is to do the very best we can to support our staff team and their well-being, while at the same time ensuring the financial sustainability of the RSA both of which are essential to our success.”

Back on Sky News, and with the small matter of people whose pay packets he actually has a say over safely dispatched, Haldane was back to the task of giving advice that he has no responsibility to act upon or bear the consequences of, telling the government to fix the economy through “investment in people.” Sounds like a good idea.

Simon Childs is a commissioning editor and reporter for Novara Media.

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