Jonathan Isaby is Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
This week the TaxPayers’ Alliance, teaming up with the Daily Mail, releases the Public Sector Rich List – the most comprehensive survey of senior public sector employee remuneration ever compiled in the UK.
Just looking at salaries does not fully show how much the taxpayer is on the hook. We also factored in employers’ pension contributions, expenses and pay-offs, giving the employee’s total remuneration. This gives an accurate picture of the cost of each employee to the taxpayer and lets us compare the overall package received to that which might be expected in the private sector. The picture is one of considerable generosity.
Today sees the publication of the Town Hall Rich List, revealing the nearly 3,500 council staff who enjoyed remuneration of more than £100,000 in 2013-14. No fewer than 130 councils had at least 10 employees earning that much with the tally at Haringey Council alone running to 68 members of staff.
One of the founding aims of the TaxPayers’ Alliance was to bring higher levels of scrutiny to spending in the public sector, although by no means would we argue that every pay package we are detailing this week is disproportionate or over-generous. Indeed, there will be many public sector employees who deserve the pay and perks that they get – but only by improving transparency can taxpayers judge for themselves if this is the case.
Few would begrudge the wages commanded by inspiring head teachers or brilliant, life-saving surgeons, for example. Those who are overseeing the delivery of improving services on lower budgets at local authorities deserve credit. But only by putting this information in the open can hard-working taxpayers demand better value where necessary or lead the applause when they see a job well done.
But we have clearly unearthed details which will give taxpayers serious cause for concern. We have found massive pay deals for staff at failing NHS Trusts, universities and local authorities, hard-to-justify pay rises in the face of budget cuts and extraordinary pay-offs for departing staff: just some of the ways the taxpayer is not getting value for money with cash being directed away from areas where it might be more usefully spent.
I trust there is no need to remind ConservativeHome readers of the pressure on the nation’s finances; but while this is the case, and the Government is having to make unpopular savings, wasteful spending is a moral outrage.
Across the board, public sector employees still receive better pay (alongside greater job security and a more generous pension) than their counterparts in the private sector, even when adjusted for qualifications and experience. The continuing one per cent pay freeze will bring this closer into line, and the overall pay bill is falling, but it is odd to have thousands of public sector employees in receipt of higher pay than the Prime Minister and tens of thousands on more than a backbench MP.
Furthermore, many private sector employees do not have any pension provision and those that do rarely get anything near as generous as those in the public sector. Pension contributions of up to a quarter of an employee’s annual salary have been found in some cases which seems especially egregious when there are other employees who get contributions of less than half of that.
And the news that employees with huge pay packages can claim for private medical insurance and luxurious hotels when there are cheaper, perfectly serviceable, places to stay will sit very uneasily with many people. This may also happen in the private sector, where it is an issue for a private company, but such things are very questionable at the taxpayers’ expense.
With over 5,000 Freedom of Information requests sent out, the Public Sector Rich List is probably the largest-ever transparency exercise of its type. There may be those who criticise the cost of doing so, but if the information were freely available we would not have needed to send so many requests. Taxpayers have a right to know where their money is going and greater disclosure is necessary for this to be achieved.
While some of the information necessary to complete the Public Sector Rich List was disclosed in organisations’ annual accounts, much of the detail was only revealed through FOI. Transparency may be improving, but FOI remains a vital tool for protecting taxpayers and any attempts to water it down would be deeply misguided. In fact, if anything, the Government should be looking at extending the scope of FOI legislation to include the ability to put requests to private companies or indeed charities which are undertaking government contracts or reliant on taxpayers’ money for considerable chunks of their turnover.
Chris Grayling recently suggested that FOI was misused when journalists (or perhaps campaigners) use the results of requests to “generate stories for the media”. I beg to differ: many a journalist and campaigner has performed a great public service by using FOI to reveal waste, largesse, failings and cover-ups by public bodies. The Guardian recently ran an article detailing 103 stories that prove the Leader of the House to be wrong, and undoubtedly many of the the stories that emerge from our Public Sector Rich List can be added to that list.
Many employees featured in the Public Sector Rich List do fantastic work in their field and deserve the compensation they get for their sterling efforts, but taxpayers need to know where there are rewards for failure and egregious examples of waste in the system. With the Mail, the TaxPayers’ Alliance is putting the public in the know.
Only through Freedom of Information requests and ever greater disclosure can taxpayers know where their money is going. Public sector budgets are having to be stretched and so transparency has never been as important as it is now.