money12Government should get a grip on major projects by recruiting the best people to lead and manage them – regardless of whether that means paying them more than the Prime Minister, Lord Browne has said. And it should stick to its guns in the face of press criticism of high salaries.

“Major projects do best when you employ outside experts when needed,” the government’s lead non-executive director told an Institute for Government event. The Olympics had been an outstanding example of the success of this approach. “They can be brought in temporarily to join a project team, which by its very nature is a temporary team.”

Advance planning and preparation were areas to concentrate on for project success, alongside strong management, and that meant “having the right team incentivised in the right way”. But such project leadership “comes at a price and needs to be paid accordingly”, he said.

“Criticising and vilifying” people on high salaries demonstrated a failure to understand incentives, Browne said. “Incentives are the key to unlocking change.”

But ministers appeared “too sensitive” to press criticism. “I think one should take the rough with the smooth, but I have the sense that people are very sensitive to criticism,” he said. Government should be prepared to argue the case for recruiting the best people to achieve project success more strongly.

“We should be saying, yes, we are going to get people in and pay them three times the Prime Minister’s current cash compensation because they are going to make a huge contribution for three or four years and then they are going to go,” Browne said.

“We should have the confidence to say it is going to make a big difference. We should stand up for what we believe.”