No more secrecy on civil servants’ pay

The man in charge of deciding what information should ultimately be made public has ruled that high paid civil servants pay must be made public. The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham has decided that the names of 24 high-earning public sector workers, who previously tried to avoid being named, must be published.

We have always campaigned for greater transparency in public sector remuneration, enabling public opinion and the media to act as a check on over generous pay rises, bonuses or pensions deals. For several years now, we have published our Town Hall Rich List and Public Sector Rich List, a comprehensive and easy to digest guide to the highest paid public sector workers. For the first time, people all over Britain could see what the senior officers in quangos and at their local council were earning, and they could hold them accountable. Public sector fat cats could no longer keep their pay a secret.

The day after the publication of the 2009 Public Sector Rich List, the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, attacked the “culture of excess” in public sector pay and said that any salary above £150,000 would now need formal ministerial approval, this was a good start but still wasn’t full transparency.

Topping the 2007 Town Hall Rich List was Kent County Council’s chief executive, Peter Gilroy. After publication he received complaints from the public that he wasn’t value for money, and KCC subsequently tried to block our FOI request for the 2008 Town Hall Rich List. We fought the decision, defending the idea that it was taxpayers’ money and there is a legitimate public interest in taxpayers knowing how that money is spent. Eventually the Information Commissioner’s Office conceded that the public interest trumped all other considerations and ruled in our favour. New ICO guidance on salary transparency was issued and all public bodies (including local authorities) were recommended to provide salaries of significantly senior staff as a matter of routine, in bands of £5,000.

This latest decision extends similar rules to others in the public sector who have previously tried to avoid being named. The ruling was needed after the Cabinet Office last year published lists showing that 332 civil servants and quango chiefs have salaries of more than £150,000. Of these, 49 were paid over £200,000. David Higgins, the chief executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority had the largest pay cheque at £390,000. The names of 24 people receiving taxpayer-funded salaries of more than £150,000 were withheld from the list after the individuals involved refused permission to reveal their identities. The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, has ordered the Cabinet Office to identify them. He said:

"If you are earning over £150,000 working for a body that is funded by the public purse, then there is now a legitimate expectation that your name and salary details will be disclosed.
"Being open and transparent is an integral part of being accountable to the taxpayer and, like it or not, this level of disclosure goes with the territory."

The Cabinet Office has 35 days to appeal against the decision or reveal the names.

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