The value of bonuses paid to senior civil servants working in the top management teams at Whitehall departments increased by 33% over the past financial year, an analysis of figures in departmental annual reports reveals.
According to a crunch of remuneration data contained in the recently-published documents, the total of declared bonus payments for top staff was £831,000 in 2016-17, up from £626,000 the year before.
Civil Service World and our sister publication PoliticsHome compared declared bonuses paid to named senior civil servants at 16 of the 17 central government departments. The Cabinet Office has yet to publish its annual report for 2016-17.
Of the departments who made their figures available, the highest level of declared bonuses was paid to staff at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), where the senior management team earned combined bonuses of up to £110,000, split between six. Its figure for the previous year was £30,000 split between two people.
While DCMS permanent secretary Sue Owen was reported as receiving a bonus in the £15,000-£20,000 range, the department’s highest reported bonus went to Chris Townsend, chief executive of Broadband Delivery UK, whose bonus was banded as £30,000-£35,000.
Last year Townsend’s bonus was banded in the £20,000-£25,000 range while the department’s only other 2015-16 bonus recipient was DCMS director Clare Pillman, whose award was banded £0-£5,000. Owen was not listed as receiving a bonus.
Rather than printing an exact figure for staff bonuses, all departments except the Department for Communities and Local Government described the bonuses paid to staff in bandings worth £5,000.
To ensure consistency, CSW''s analysis used the upper limit of an indicated band.
DCLG gave its figures in £4,000 bandings, so permanent secretary Melanie Dawes’ bonus was banded as £15,000-£19,000. Hers was one of four bonuses paid by the department to senior staff, which totalled £66,000
Close on the heels of DCMS in the award stakes were HM Treasury and the Home Office, which paid members of their senior management teams bonuses worth £105,000 and £95,000 respectively.
In the Treasury’s case, that payment was split between seven people, and represented a decrease from 2015-16’s £115,000, which was divided between 11 staff members.
The Home Office’s £95,000 bonus bill went to seven staff, but was a significant increase on the £55,000 from the previous year indicated in the "board members" remuneration section of the report. A Home Office spokesman said a bonus worth up to £15,000 paid to a former official in 2015-16 that was included in another section of the report meant the true year-on-year change was from £70,000 to £95,000.
At the other end of the scale, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made only one bonus payment to a senior staff member in 2016-17, with a declared banding of £10,000-£15,000, while the Ministry of Defence said it paid no bonuses to senior staffers.
The Department for Exiting the European Union did not give individual figures for bonuses paid to senior staff members, but its annual report noted that bonuses for the 2016-17 performance year had been included in the department’s spend for 2016-17 and would be “paid in early 2017-18”.
CSW and PoliticsHome’s data crunch indicated that the 2016-17 senior staff bonuses had been shared among 55 individuals, up from 44 the previous year.
Based on calculations at the highest end of the individual banding, the individual value of the latest bonuses would be £15,109 on average, up from £14,227 the previous year.
Commenting on the overall figures, a Cabinet Office spokeswoman said performance-related pay was one of the tools the civil service could use to help it “attract, retain and motivate highly-skilled individuals”, but she added that it needed to be “moderate and appropriate”.
“Since 2010 the government has restricted performance related payments for senior civil servants to the top 25% of performers, saving the taxpayer around £15m,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: "All bonuses are awarded to recognise and reward achievement, and are in line with the department's budget and Cabinet Office guidelines."
Naomi Cooke, assistant general secretary of the FDA union said the senior staff bonus figures did not tell the whole story about pay and reward for the public-sector leaders who run some of the nation’s most complex and vital services.
“As the government’s own analysis concedes, total remuneration for senior civil servants still lags far behind that of their private sector counterparts, and overall reward packages have plummeted since 2010,” she said.
“The bulk of the SCS – those at deputy director level – are almost £14,000 a year worse off in real terms than they were seven years ago."
Cooke called on ministers to use the recently-announced review of Senior Civil Service pay to ditch the public sector’s 1% pay cap and develop a fully-funded long-term approach to pay and reward.
The FDA pointed to a section of the latest Senior Salaries Review Body report that noted "a real-terms cut of over 20% in base pay and bonuses since 2010 has been typical for the SSRB’s remit groups”.
This story was updated at 17:30 on August 4 to correct an error in the original version that resulted in the Home Office figure being stated as £105,000. The correction also caused the original story's 34% increase figure to reduce to 32.7%, rounded up to 33%. CSW's methodology for comparing the bonuses of senior officials was to rely on the side-by-side figures presented by departments in this year's annual reports, hence there was no change to the overall figures for 2015-16.