Highest earners on the defensive as Building survey reveals widening gap between top brass and workers.
The best paid directors at construction and housebuilding companies earned an average of £432,000 last year, up 104% from 1995, according to a survey produced for Building.

At the same time, the average worker's pay in the sector increased 47%, from £18,500 to £27,200.

The figures come at a time when there has been widespread criticism of the large pay-offs that some directors have received even if their former companies had been performing poorly.

Senior directors defended their remuneration packages. Tony Pidgley, the founder of the Berkeley Group who received £1.47m in 2002, said: "You've got to look at the performance of the company. We've got £200m of cash flow and a 25,000-unit landbank."

Mel Ewell, chief executive of support services group Amey, added: "If you want good chief executives, you've got to pay good salaries."

According to the survey, compiled by economic consultant Martin Hewes, the highest paid director was at contractor and housebuilder David McLean. The director earned £3.6m last year, a 595% increase on the best paid board member of that company in 2001. This was classed as an exceptional item in its administration expenses.

Contractor Benson paid its workers the most in 2002. Its employees received 26.2% more than the previous year, taking home an average of £50,300.

Berkeley, which topped the average pay league for 2001, slipped into second place, but still paid an average employee £45,400 – an increase of 7.4%.

The survey found that the largest contractor or housebuilder in the UK by turnover was Amec. The company's sales outstripped second place Balfour Beatty by almost £1bn. Amec's turnover was £4.4bn in the 12 months to 31 December.

The result was bolstered by the company's facilities management arm, which did £1.8bn of work.

Taylor Woodrow was ousted from the third spot it occupied in last year's table by Wimpey, which made £2.6bn in 2002, up from £2.0bn in 2002.

In terms of pre-tax profit, the best performing company in the sector for 2002 was Wimpey. It made £285.9m, about twice as much as the previous year.

Snapping at Wimpey's heels was rival housebuilder Persimmon, which is thought to be one major acquisition away from becoming a FTSE100 company. It made a pre-tax profit of £256.8m for the 12 months to 31 December 2002.