BOSSES' pay grew at almost double the rate of the average workers last year, a study showed today.

The salary of directors at the UK's top 350 companies rose by an average seven per cent, compared with a 3.

7 per cent increase in average earnings, a report by accountant Deloitte revealed.

The news follows revelations that the two top men at troubled Hampshire based cable firm Virgin Media earned more than £5m between them in the past few months.

Steve Burch took a £3.

6m pay off when he quit last month and Jim Mooney enjoyed a £1.

3m share option bonus, taking his earnings in the past four years to more than £6m.

"Increases for executive directors are still significantly ahead of those received by the general workforce," the report stated.

The average chief executive of a FTSE 100 Index company earned around £850,000 in basic salary, although the lion's share of rewards at the UK's top companies come from bonuses and share options.

Potential bonuses for directors of FTSE 100 members were an average 130 per cent of salary - up from 115 per cent the year before - but the actual bonus payout rocketed from 75 to 94 per cent of salary.

John Cridland, deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said: "While big number salaries and bonuses may appear unfair to some, in a world where UK companies face global competition it is vital they can recruit and retain talented executives to keep ahead of the game.

"The economy is growing strongly and these salaries, and the performance-related bonuses and share options, reflect the hard work and achievement of UK plc.''