Cabinet Office reveals highest earners with HS2 chief at top

Mark Thurston leads ranking for second year running as John Manzoni and Mark Sedwill well down list


By Jim.Dunton

24 Jan 2020

HS2 chief exec Mark Thurston

HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston has topped the government’s “high earners list” for senior officials for the second year running, according to transparency data published by the Cabinet Office.

The dataset, which details staff who earn more than £150,000 a year at departments and their agencies, shows Thurston earned between £620,000 and £624,999 as of last September – a £10,000 increase on 2018, when he also topped the list. News of his earnings comes as the National Audit Office has criticised the Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd for its handling of the high-speed rail project, the full cost of which, it said, was impossible to know for certain.   

Rail industry figures dominate the upper echelons of the 517-name list, with HS2 leaders accounting for three of the 10 highest-paid roles; Network Rail five; and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and Highways England one each. A need to pay market rates for key infrastructure and service delivery skills is often cited as the reason for their prealence at the top of the high earners list.


Civil service chief executive and Cabinet Office permanent secretary John Manzoni – whose planned departure from Whitehall was announced this week – is ranked 38 on the list. His salary band of £235,000-£239,999 was an increase of £5,000 on 2018.

Cabinet secretary and civil service head Sir Mark Sedwill is placed at 68 on the list, with a salary band of £210,000-£214,999. The figure is a hike from his salary range of £185,000-£189,999 quoted in September 2018. At that time Sedwill was national security adviser and acting cabinet secretary while his predecessor Sir Jeremy Heywood was undergoing cancer treatment.

The latest high-earners list includes 517 individuals – 28 more than the 2018 list. Some entries are for people who do not work full time, but whose earnings still meet entry requirements on a pro-rata basis.

The highest placed woman on the list is Susan Cooklin, Network Rail’s managing director for route services, whose £385,000-£389,999 salary range makes her the nation’s sixth highest-paid government official. The figure is £10,000 higher than the previous year.

According to the 2019 high-earners list, Department for International Trade chief negotiator Crawford Falconer is the nation’s highest-paid ministry-based official with a salary band of £265,000-£269,999, up £5,000 on the previous year.

Falconer’s salary is a clear £100,000 a year higher than that of DIT perm sec Antonia Romeo, whose salary band also rose by £5,000 over the same period.

The full high-earners list can be found here.

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