Cabinet Office slips out delayed data on government’s highest earners

Spreadsheet reveals £20k pay rise for HS2 chief and shows COO Alex Chisholm now earns more than cabinet secretary Simon Case
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By Jim Dunton

21 Jul 2023

The official number of civil servants and other senior government officials who earn £150,000 a year or more grew by 6.6% between 2021 and 2022, according to the Cabinet Office’s latest high-earners list.

Government’s annual snapshot of the best paid officials, agency staff or other employees, is normally published in December or January. But this year’s figures – which provide a picture of earnings in September last year – were only published yesterday, ahead of parliament’s summer recess.

The 2022 high-earners rankings have swelled to 664 individuals. Some of those roles are described as a “first disclosure”, meaning that the role was not previously included in the dataset. Around 60 roles reflect part-time pay that would be £150,000 or more pro-rata. The figure is broadly comparable with last year’s number.

Mark Thurston, chief executive of High Speed Two Ltd, the Department for Transport-owned company delivering the HS2 rail network, tops the high-earners’ list for the fifth-year running. The 2022 list shows he received a pay increase bracketed at £20,000 since the 2021-22 financial year.

Thurston’s earnings are now framed at £640,000-£644,999, extending his lead at the top of the rankings. Thurston announced last week that he will step down from his role at the infrastructure project in September. In March, the government announced a pause to development work on the new station at Euston that will be HS2’s London terminus after a £2.2bn cost hike emerged in that part of the project.

The upper echelons of the high-earners list are usually dominated by rail-industry executives and other leaders in the transport and infrastructure sector. The latest data is no different, with 10 of the top 20 earners working in the rail industry.

Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines retains the No.2 spot, with earnings bracketed at £585,000 to £589,999, unchanged from 2021. Network Rail chief financial officer Jeremy Westlake takes the third spot with earnings of £415,000-£419,999.

A new entrant to the list for this year is Alison Atkinson, chief executive of the Ministry of Defence-owned Atomic Weapons Establishment, with earnings described as £410,000-£414,999. She is the highest paid of 19 AWE Plc roles on the list, which are new disclosures for this year.

One of them is former Cabinet Office perm sec and civil service chief executive Sir John Manzoni, who is now AWE chairman. The high-earners list gives his remuneration as £150,000-£154,999.

The UK’s two most senior civil servants – cabinet secretary Simon Case and Cabinet Office perm sec Sir Alex Chisholm – feature well down the league table of government’s highest earners.

According to the latest data, Chisholm – who succeeded Manzoni at the helm of the Cabinet Office in 2020, and who is also civil service chief operating officer – received a pay rise last year that boosted his earnings to £205,000-£209,999.

Last year’s rankings bracketed his pay – and that of Case – at £200,00-£204,999. Case’s pay is unchanged from last year. He ranks at No.115 on the high-earners list; Chisholm is No.97.

Among the departmental officials who are nominally junior in rank to Case and Chisholm, but who earn more, is Department for Business and Trade second perm sec Crawford Falconer.

Falconer – also the government’s chief trade negotiator – is now bracketed as earning £270,000-£274,999, a £10,000 increase on the previous year’s figure. At the time of the high-earners snapshot, Falconer’s role would still have been based at the Department for International Trade, which was abolished in machinery of government changes earlier this year. 

A government spokesperson said all salaries at or above £150,000 were fully scrutinised and approved by ministers.

“These roles represent 0.1% of civil service jobs,” the spokesperson said. “The civil service needs to be able to attract high calibre people, who can deliver quality services and manage projects in a way that represents true value to the taxpayer.”

Civil Service World asked why the publication of the earnings data was delayed by six months. No answer was provided.

The Cabinet Office originally listed 599 officials as earning £150,000 or more in last year’s high-earners figures, which related to September 2021’s snapshot. A further 24 officials were added to the list in February last year after an administrative error in data submitted by the Department of Health and Social Care was identified.

This story was updated to include a government response at 14:10 on 21 July 2023 

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