Sacked DfE perm sec Slater got £278k 'loss of office' payment

Department's annual accounts detail compensation deal after Jonathan Slater was sacrificed over exams fiasco
Jonathan Slater. Photo: Baldo Sciacca for CSW

By Jim Dunton

17 Dec 2021

Former Department for Education permanent secretary Jonathan Slater received a severance payment of £277,780 for being sacked following 2020’s exams fiasco, the department’s just-published annual accounts have revealed.

DfE’s annual report and accounts for 2020-21 said the sum was compensation “for loss of office” and brought Slater’s salary for the year to the £345,000-£350,000 bracket, up from £165,000-£170,000 the previous year.  His total remuneration for 2020-21 was £375,000-£380,000 because of £28,000 in pensions contributions.

Slater had been removed from his post in late August, when prime minister Boris Johnson announced DfE needed “fresh leadership” following the backlash over the use of a controversial algorithm to award A-Level and other exam grades. Physical tests did not take place because of the pandemic.

Slater’s sacking was widely seen as a way to shield then-education secretary Gavin Williamson over the exams chaos, which saw some students awarded much lower grades than expected, losing out on jobs and university places until a U-turn was ordered.

The former perm sec told CSW last year that he only learned he was to be ousted from the top job at Sanctuary Buildings when a journalist contacted the DfE press office seeking a departmental response to No.10’s plan.

“Of course I’m wondering where this is coming from and doing my best to stay focused on the task at hand, which is hard enough as it is,” Slater said. “I’m speaking to the secretary of state, he’s expressing confidence in me.

“But at the end of August, I got a message that the prime minister had decided... that the department needed new official leadership, a phrase I hadn’t heard before.”

Slater’s five-year term as perm sec had been due to end in spring 2021. 

Susan Acland-Hood had been drafted in to DfE as interim second perm sec during August 2020. She was made acting perm sec following Slater’s sacking, her position was formalised later in the year.

DfE’s severance deal with Slater is the latest example of the government’s inability to apply its own policies on public-sector exit payments.

In October last year it laid regulations before parliament that imposed a £95,000 cap on exit payments for civil servants and other public-sector officials under provisions in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015.

The move was aimed at enacting a pledge on public-sector exit payments in the Conservative Party’s 2015 general election manifesto. However the regulations were withdrawn in February after public sector unions including the FDA, Prospect and PCS began processes to challenge the introduction of the new rules at the High Court.

Details of Slater’s exit settlement follow the £248,000 exit package agreed for former cabinet secretary Lord Mark Sedwill last year. This year the Home Office reached a £340,000 settlement with its former perm sec Sir Philip Rutnam ahead of a looming employment tribunal.

The Home Office’s annual report and accounts confirmed that it also funded some of Rutnam’s legal costs after he quit Marsham Street in February last year, sparking the bullying probe into home secretary Priti Patel. The fees and VAT added an extra £36,000 to the cost of the department’s settlement with Rutnam.

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