Civil service high-earner ranks swell by 8.5%, transparency data shows

COO Alex Chisholm is among 108 officials whose pay is listed as “up from 2020”
Photo: Pixabay

By Jim Dunton

28 Jan 2022

Almost 600 civil servants now earn at least £150,000 a year, according to the Cabinet Office’s latest transparency data – an 8.5% increase on the previous year’s figures.

The just-published “high earners” list gives a snapshot of pay in September last year, and contains 599 names, up from 552 in 2020. Rail industry executives dominate the league table’s upper echelons, occupying eight of the top 10 spots.

HS2 Ltd chief executive Mark Thurston heads the earnings tally for the fourth year in a row. The boss of the Department for Transport-owned firm responsible for delivering England’s next generation of high-speed rail lines has a current salary band of £620,000-£624,999, unchanged from last year.

Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines is in second place on the list, with a salary bracket of £585,000-£589,999, also unchanged from 2020. Six other senior officials at DfT’s rail infrastructure owner and operator feature in the top 10. The only non-rail officials are Nuclear Decommissioning Authority chief executive officer David Peattie, whose salary is bracketed at £395,000 to £399,999, and Civil Aviation Authority CEO Richard Moriarty, on £345,000 to £349,000.

Around one in five of the roles on the high-earners list are at DfT rail organisations, including the East West Rail Company and operator of last resort company OLR Holdings as well as Network Rail and HS2.

Much of the increase in roles on the 2021 list in comparison to last year’s figure relates to Nuclear Decommissioning Authority subsidiaries that are described as “newly in scope”. They involve 39 officials at Sellafield Ltd, Magnox Ltd, International Nuclear Services Ltd, Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd and Radioactive Waste Management Ltd. Five new entries relate to NDA board members whose salaries were previously only disclosed in the authority’s annual accounts.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said the high-earners list represented just 0.1% of civil service jobs and that 44 of the 47 roles added for 2021 were “not new jobs” and had no additional cost to the taxpayer.

“We recognise that high salaries in the public sector must be justified and all salaries at or above £150,000 are fully scrutinised and approved by ministers,” the spokesperson said.

According to the latest civil service statistics, the median salary in the UK civil service at the end of March last year was £29,180.

Pay rise for civil service COO Alex Chisholm

Despite being the UK’s most senior civil servants, cabinet secretary Simon Case and chief operating officer Alex Chisholm come way down the rankings of the high earners’ list, only just making the top quartile.

Case’s salary bracket is given as £200,00-£204,999 and described as unchanged from last year. Chisholm is now in the same bracket,  but this is described as an increase on last year’s figure,  which was £195,000 to £199,999.

Chisholm’s is one of 108 roles identified as having a pay ceiling that is “up from 2020” – a potentially controversial move at a time when rank-and-file civil servants earning above £24,000 have been subjected to a 2021-2022 pay freeze by the government.  A rise from £199,999 to £204,999 would equate to a pay increase of 2.5% – however, one from last year's pay floor to this year's pay ceiling would be double that.

Because the high-earners snapshot relates to pay in September, comparing 2020’s figures with those just released for 2021 does not rule out the potential for any pay rise to have been made in the 2020-21 financial year.

Some high-earner entries on the list clarify that their increases were 2020 awards implemented after the 2020 reporting date. 

NDA chief exec David Peattie, who is number four on this year’s high-earners list, saw his salary bracket rise by £5,000 to £395,000-£399,999. His increase related to the 2020-2021 financial year, but was only implemented after the reporting date for last year’s list.

The NHS was excluded from the pay freeze,  and some high-earner entries for NHS organisations that are part of the Department of Health and Social Care state that rises were the result of a 2021 pay award.

The Cabinet Office’s annual report and accounts for 2020-2021 says civil service COO and perm sec Chisholm’s salary was £195,000 to £200,000 for the year, although it also identifies a non-consolidated payment of £15,000-£20,000 as well as pension benefits of £76,000.

Chisholm became civil service COO and Cabinet Office perm sec in April 2020, joining from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy where he was perm sec from 2016. A note on his high-earners list entry suggests the rise was an “adjustment on transfer to CO”.

When approached by CSW, the Cabinet Office declined to give any comment on Chisholm’s pay rise.

Elsewhere, the high-earners’ list shows Cabinet Office second perm sec Sue Gray – arguably the UK’s most high-profile civil servant because of her Partygate probe role – earns between £150,000 and £154,999.

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