Look out at the car park adjoining the admin block of a typical trust and it should be possible to tell which car belongs to which manager. A VW Passat or Landrover Freelander - that will be the chief executive's. BMW 300 Series or Rover 620 - it must be a board-level director. Only the Audi A4 introduces an element of suspense - it could belong to either.

The report shows that the company car remains the most common non-pay benefit for managers. And there is a pretty clear correlation between the size of the car and the seniority of the manager.

At the top of the scale, chief executives had a car worth, on average,£21,367 - but the range ran all the way down from a£33,000 Mercedes to an£11,000 Nissan Micra.

Board-level managers below them enjoyed a car worth on average£19,067, ranging from a BMW520 down to a Ford Fiesta.

Second-level managers below the board tended to drive a VW Passat or Ford Mondeo, with an average value of£17,006, ranging from a Volvo V70 Turbo to a Renault Clio.

NHSP senior human resources adviser John Langran points out that NHS managers tend to be 'a notch or two' below their counterparts in the private sector. 'Chief executives in other organisations run cars of at least three litres - Jags or even Mercedes.'

And, he points out, NHS managers have to contribute if they want a big car. 'Some trusts won't put anyone in anything more than a 1.6-litre Mondeo, including the chief executive,' he says.

'That's partly about publicity. A few trusts learned early on that when staff saw the chief executive's Porsche turn up they assumed it meant a big pay rise.'