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Pay rises may be hard to find - if you’re a FTSE CEO

Don Mason | Getty Images

Here's a phrase you don't hear that often: It's tough out there for the U.K.'s leading chief executives.

However, with salary levels for CEOs working for FTSE 100 companies falling in real terms, according to a PwC analysis of remuneration reports, the top job may be becoming slightly less lucrative.

Almost half of CEOs of the UK's benchmark index's top companies did not get a salary increase this year, according to PwC, with median total pay up just 0.7 percent to £3.5 million (including salary, benefits and long-term incentive plans).

The answer to the dearth of executive pay inflation seems to lie in the increased use of long-term incentive plans rather than bonuses, a key element of the post-credit crisis backlash against perceived excesses in executive pay, which led to shareholders at several large UK companies voting down large executive pay packets and even CEO departures.

Back in 2012, during what became known as the Shareholder Spring, David Brennan, former chief executive of pharma giant AstraZeneca, and Sly Bailey, former chief executive of media group Trinity Mirror, stepped down after shareholder protests about their pay packages.

The performance conditions on long-term incentive plans seemed to be difficult to meet, with pay-outs under these terms down to less than half of the maximum award available. At the same time, bonus payments to CEOs rose slightly (by 3 percent) in 2014 after three years of decline.

"There's little sign of executive pay inflation picking up again," Tom Gosling, head of PwC's reward practice, said in a statement.

"There's no doubt the new voting rules introduced last year have given shareholders more power and helped to bring greater stability to executive pay."

The figures are based on only the 39 out of the index's 100 companies which have so far released remuneration reports.

- By CNBC's Catherine Boyle