A £5m penthouse suite, new car every six months and as many sun-drenched holidays a £3.7m salary can buy: How Motability fat cat Mike Betts enjoys a VERY luxury lifestyle
- Most people can only dream of the kind of holidays taken by Mike Betts
- His annual remuneration of £1.7million can buy a lot of holidays
- The chief executive of Motability Operations enjoys other trappings too
Most people can only dream of the kind of holidays taken by Mike Betts (pictured with his second wife Julie)
Most people can only dream of the kind of holidays taken by Mike Betts. There he is with his second wife Julie, living the dream, walking hand in hand in swimsuits along a flawless, empty tropical beach, white sand cushioning their bare feet.
A gilded couple silhouetted against a golden setting sun – an image that was flaunted on Facebook.
It may have been the Caribbean – a faviourite destination for Mr and Mrs Betts. His annual remuneration of £1.7million can buy a lot of holidays there.
The chief executive of publicly-funded Motability Operations, which supplies vehicles to the disabled, enjoys other trappings, too – all the fripperies of the modern boss, such as gold-plated medical insurance, entertainment expenses and away-days in posh hotels to discuss ‘strategy’. And, of course, nice cars.
‘It goes without saying that he loves his cars, and he never drives anything more than six months old,’ says one who has worked for Betts. His car changes all the time. He’s into his Mercs and likes Range Rovers, too. Some of the other directors go for Porsche 911s.’
Motability’s London office is on the south bank of the Thames in Southwark. The directors all have offices on the top floor, which had an expensive refit a few years ago.
‘They didn’t scrimp on anything,’ adds the former employee. ‘It was stupid money, spent on high-quality artworks, beautiful wooden furniture and top-end fixtures and fittings.’
Then there is the penthouse flat. Mr Betts, 56 – a father of two grown-up children – is lucky enough to live just around the corner from his office in a £5million suite in a super-trendy warehouse conversion within a popping champagne cork’s distance of Tower Bridge.
From his balcony overlooking the river, Mr Betts, a Buckinghamshire boy made good and then some, can survey the London skyline, bubbly in hand, and celebrate his good fortune.
He’s a generous boss, too, according to that former employee. ‘He will often hand his credit card to another director to buy drinks at the bar.’
But then he can afford to be generous, given his level of income. It does, however, prompt the question: What is his extraordinary pay package for, exactly?
Mr Betts, 56 – a father of two grown-up children – is lucky enough to live just around the corner from his office in a £5million suite in a super-trendy warehouse conversion within a popping champagne cork’s distance of Tower Bridge
Not least because Mr Betts will be walking into the corporate sunset in the not-too-distant future, quitting by May 2020 following 16 years in the job and after coming under fire from the media and politicians on all sides in the past year.
But not before he has filled his boots with yet more money – a hitherto secret £2million bonus exposed by the Mail this week – also from the taxpayer.
Motability Operations (MO) is a public limited company, but that designation is somewhat misleading.
It is not a corporation in the genuine FTSE100 sense, but the delivery arm of a charitable enterprise called Motability, established in 1977 to help disabled people acquire reasonably priced and reliable cars, scooters and powered chairs.
The scheme is very popular, with 614,000 customers as of September last year.
Its ‘Plc’ tag suggests a major company subject to market turbulence and risk, constantly fighting competitors, red in tooth and claw. After all, vehicle leasing is a crowded, ever-evolving market.
The challenges of free competition are routinely trotted out to justify stratospheric boardroom rewards, but MO is a stranger to this commercial jungle. It grazes in much safer territory.
It is a monopoly, the sole recipient of mobility benefit paid by the Department of Work and Pensions to disabled claimants who want to use the scheme – a single, ultra-reliable source of funding.
What’s more, MO benefits from generous tax breaks of £890million. Due to this huge built-in advantage, and because of its vast purchasing power in the new car market, MO can drive down the price of the vehicles it buys.
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Effectively, this is a licence to print money – shown by MO’s accumulation of a vast £2.62billion reserve, mostly in vehicles, which are sold into the second-hand market after three years.
The shareholders – four high street banks – are not allowed dividends, so this pile of taxpayers’ money sits there, growing larger. In its damning report, released today, the official spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, repeatedly points to these implicit advantages, criticising MO for setting executive performance targets that are almost impossible to miss, given its unique circumstances.
This resulted in five executive directors of the company receiving bonuses of £15.3million between 2008 and 2015.
Indeed, it would take a pretty dumb bunch of executives to mess up such a ‘business’.
But this has not stopped the top people at MO patting themselves on the back and awarding each other lavish, fat-cat payouts on a regular basis.
As for finding out Mr Betts’ total annual remuneration package (revealed by this paper in February) – which includes performance and loyalty bonuses paid for reaching targets that are easy to maintain and loyalty that should be a given in his position – it wasn’t easy because a big chunk of it was squirrelled away in the firm’s annual accounts under an entry that did not bear Mr Betts’ name.
Yet, Motability is a far from perfect scheme. Only a third of the 1.72million mobility benefit claimants eligible to join it actually do, and they found themselves being overcharged to the tune of £390million for their lease agreements when MO over-estimated the rate of depreciation on vehicles.
The Motability scheme itself has previously been criticised for its failure to police itself. Disabled applicants can nominate able-bodied relatives and friends to drive their vehicles if they can’t manage it, leading to claims that able-bodied people are using cars bought mainly for their own use.
Surely the most bloated feline on the block is Michael Keith Betts. MO assures the world that his pay and privileges are decided independently by the remuneration committee – of which he is a member.
Conflict of interest is avoided, says MO, by Mr Betts leaving the room while his stonking pay packet is discussed.
It may be that Mike Betts harbours an appetite for yet more years behind a sprawling desk. But, if not, he will be able to enjoy a long and happy retirement, enjoying those flawless stretches of sand in the West Indies. And he has you, the humble British taxpayer, to thank for it
‘Betts comes over as a nice guy – he is on first-name terms with everyone and he will talk to anyone on any level – but it’s not always a fun conversation,’ adds the source. ‘He has an unnerving habit of suddenly checking if you know the exact price of a particular car to keep you on your toes.
‘He is very much the boss and is basically surrounded by yes-men. He always knows exactly what he wants and pushes people hard to get it. He can be quite ruthless.’
The National Audit Office points out that MO insists on comparing itself to real private businesses rather than the ‘public-sector entities’ and ‘charitable trusts’ that it more closely resembles.
Acidly, the report’s authors point out that even BBC executives inhabit a more competitive environment than MO bosses and take home far less money
The Motability charity’s governors have been aware of this inconsistency for years – as correspondence contained in the NAO report shows – but have done precious little to rein in such greed.
The NAO reveals that governors of the Motability charity often spend far longer in post than the recommended nine years – sometimes twice as long – and it suggests refreshing the ranks of those whose job it is to monitor how MO bosses spend public money.
There is perhaps 18 months before Mr Betts bids farewell to the corporate trough, effectively forced out by howls of criticism from Parliament and diligent reporting by this newspaper.
MO puts a gloss on events, issuing this statement: ‘After 16 years in the business, Motability Operations chief executive Mike Betts and the board of Motability Operations Group plc have agreed that, following the implementation of actions agreed as an outcome of the NAO review, and working to help the new chairman settle in, a suitable successor will be found, and Mike will step down from the board, no later than May 2020.
‘The board is clear that recommendations made by the NAO will benefit from Mr Betts’s experience and skills to see them through.’
It may be that Mike Betts harbours an appetite for yet more years behind a sprawling desk.
But, if not, he will be able to enjoy a long and happy retirement, enjoying those flawless stretches of sand in the West Indies. And he has you, the humble British taxpayer, to thank for it.
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