RUTH SUTHERLAND: The fat cat boss of disabled car charity getting fatter with £2million bonus off the backs of the vulnerable is obscene
Mike Betts (left) with the chairman of Motability Operations Ltd Neil Johnson (right)
The picture could not be more heart-warming. On the front cover of Motability’s annual report is an elderly couple, the woman supported by a stick, getting out of their car — presumably provided by the charity scheme — beaming with joy as they greet their adorable grandchildren.
The 100-page document is threaded through with moving testimony from people who have benefited from the scheme.
Andrew, who has no use of his right leg, tells how his Motability car has given him his independence. ‘This allows me to actually get out of the house, and means I can enjoy days out with my wife,’ he says.
Steven, a keen hockey and basketball player until an accident left him with difficulty walking, describes how his Motability car has made ‘an amazing difference to my life’. ‘Playing para-hockey makes me feel normal,’ he testifies.
No one can deny Motability has transformed life for thousands of disabled people and their carers, by helping them to lease cars, scooters and wheelchairs they couldn’t otherwise afford. But a closer look at Motability Operations’ report and accounts reveals another, more disturbing picture, one of fat-cat pay for bosses and a huge hoard of unused surplus assets, funded by taxpayers.
The scheme has also been plagued by allegations of abuse by bogus claimants which threaten to bring it into disrepute.
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So, too, does the latest row to engulf Motability Operations, the company which runs the charitable scheme, with allegations that it covered up a £2 million bonus for its boss, Mike Betts — on top of his whopping £1.7 million-a-year annual pay package.
It is simply unacceptable for such a bloated sum to be handed to the boss of an enterprise aimed at helping disabled people, many of whom struggle financially because they are unable to work. The company says it sets his pay by comparing it with bosses of FTSE 250 firms — but why?
Mike Betts is said to earn more than the several bosses in the FTSE 100 of top companies included the boss of British Gas
Mr Betts is not an entrepreneur, nor even a fully fledged commercial manager. He runs a company which is a taxpayer-supported monopoly at a time when the Government is trying to curb welfare spending. And as for comparing his income with bosses in the second tier FTSE 250, the fact is that Mr Betts earns more than several bosses in the elite FTSE 100 of top companies, including the chief executive of Centrica, which runs British Gas, and the boss of global commodities trading firm Glencore.
His tenure is not even an unmitigated triumph. If it was, his pay packet might be marginally more palatable.
Motability has been a lifeline for millions of genuine claimants, yet it is also a magnet for fraudsters. Investigations by the Mail have revealed that scores of cars have gone to people who are not disabled and have been scamming the system. A litany of shameful cases has gone to court, including that of one unscrupulous mother who cannot be named.
She shaved her son’s head and pretended he had cancer, putting him in a wheelchair to corroborate her lies — which got her a Motability Vauxhall Zafira. She also falsely claimed her daughter had an auto-immune disease.
This callous woman ended up in jail, but the suspicion is that many others continue flagrantly to cash in on Motability, swanning around in taxpayer-funded cars they could never afford legitimately.
Then there is the curious matter of Motability’s pot of gold. As well as revealing Mr Betts’s lavish pay, the Mail also unearthed the fact that the company had been squirrelling away around £200 million of surplus cash every year, adding up to a £2.4 billion treasure trove.
The firm described this as a contingency fund to cushion against rising interest rates, inflation or the cost of cars. But amassing a war chest of that size goes way beyond prudence. Any company with an ounce of financial acumen would find a more productive use for such a vast pool of assets.
Motability Operations effectively conceded as much when it announced it is giving £500 million to its charity arm, Motability, which awards grants to help the disabled drivers.
Former Network Rail boss Mark Carne (pictured above) is one boss who had an excessive bonus package
But surely, if there is so much spare capital sloshing around, much of it should be handed back to the Treasury. Bizarrely, at the same time as they were sitting on vast rainy-day funds, bosses sanctioned a luxurious £26 million office refurbishment, with chrome fittings, stone vases and art displays.
There have been three investigations into the Motability scheme. A report from the National Audit Office, due this Friday, holds out the prospect of further embarrassing revelations.
It all goes to show how ridiculous it is to suggest Mr Betts should — even for a nano-second — be considered on a par with high-achieving company chiefs — who are often far too well-paid as well.
Post Office boss Paula Vennells (pictured above) took home more than £700,000 while thousands of postmasters had a pay cut
His case is an example of how corporate fat cattery has spread into other areas of national life. There is a regular stream of people in the public or charitable sector waltzing off with excessive packages, to the disgust of their employees and customers.
Step forward Mark Carne, the bungling ex-Network Rail boss who cashed in to the tune of £800,000 a year as thousands of commuters struggled into work.
Post Office boss Paula Vennells took home more than £700,000 while thousands of postmasters had a pay cut.
Gordon Taylor is paid £2.29 million a year to head the Professional Footballers’ Association, an offensive amount for running a trade union looking after the interests of ordinary, non-superstar players who fall on hard times.
Rewards like these create social division and distrust — just as much as the multi-million-pound handouts to the likes of Jeff Fairburn, the boss of housebuilder Persimmon which made a fortune from the Government’s Help To Buy scheme — and who was only recently deposed for his greed.
These examples play into the hands of Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and his relentless and divisive anti-capitalist rhetoric. And many people will find it particularly obnoxious for the boss of a disability scheme to earn such an unconscionable sum.
What is worse is the brazen lack of transparency. Motability Operations does publish a remuneration report which sets out top salaries and bonuses, but it does not show the whole picture.
Gordon Taylor (pictured above) is paid £2.29 million a year to head the Professional Footballers’ Association
It took the Mail several months to uncover the full extent of Mr Betts’s £1.7 million-a-year annual pay. Yet if any company listed on the London Stock Exchange had produced an incomplete picture of its executive packages, shareholders would be baying for blood.
Nor is there any proper explanation of why he deserves a £2 million bonus. Some insiders said it is for ‘loyalty’, a reward merely for staying in post.
If so, that is an outrage. Loyalty, like honesty, should be a basic requirement, not a commodity to be purchased. He has been at the company since 2002 — if he is being inundated with better offers, why has he stayed so long?
Jeff Fairburn (pictured), the boss of housebuilder Persimmon made a fortune from the Government’s Help To Buy scheme
In the past decade Mr Betts has made at least £8.7 million, which to those who drive his Motability cars must seem like riches beyond the dreams of avarice.
We seem to have jettisoned the idea of people working for a charitable cause out of a sense of vocation and public duty. Yes, they deserve to be decently paid, but there is no need to indulge them like the money-mad tycoons who besmirch corporate Britain.
Last word should go to veteran Labour MP Frank Field, the scourge of Sir Philip Green, and who also heads a committee that has looked into Motability.
Mr Field’s judgment is that Mr Betts’s pay and bonus ‘is an affront to the disabled’. It is an affront to the rest of us, too.
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