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Councils told to publish 'pay and perks' data

02/03/16

Extension of rule on senior managers' salaries follows review of Freedom of Information Act

Town halls will be required to publish more data to reveal the “pay and perks” of senior managers, the Government has announced.

Rules introduced five years ago – ordering councils to lift the lid on salaries, bonuses and the pay ratio with junior staff – do not go far enough, ministers have decided.

The new transparency drive will focus on benefits in kind, requiring councils to reveal whether their top employees receive, for example, a company car or medical insurance. Also, the regulations will be extended from local government to include health bodies such as hospital trusts.

Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock said: “We will spread transparency throughout public services, making sure all public bodies routinely publish details of senior pay and perks. After all, taxpayers should know if their money is funding a company car or a big pay-off.”

The move was announced as Hancock delighted campaigners by dropping proposals to introduce charges for Freedom of Information (FoI) requests, following a storm of protest.

Lord_BurnsAn FoI Commission, led by Lord Burns (pictured), was set up to examine Government concerns about the way the act is operating, prompting suspicions that the law would be curbed to prevent embarrassing facts being unearthed. But, announcing its findings, Hancock said: “After 10 years, we took the decision to review the Freedom of Information Act and we have found it is working well.”

Currently, local authorities are required to publish data to show the number of staff earning more than £50,000 a year, identifying those earning £150,000 or more by name. Allowances, pension contributions, expenses and bonuses paid to senior employees – those earning £50,000 who are the head of a public service – must also be revealed.

Proper disclosure

But the report by the FoI Commission states: “We have noted that details of expenses and benefits in kind are, in the main, not published, and requests made under the act have been effective in disclosing proper information and to uncover questionable practices.

“We do not wish to impose excessive burdens on public bodies however, and any recommendation to publish all details of expenses and benefits in kind may be onerous.

“Therefore we consider that public authorities should be required to publish in their statement of accounts the total of senior employees’ expenses and benefits in kind, and a breakdown of these by reference to categories.

“These categories should be understandable by the lay person, and could include for example, “company car”, “medical insurance”, and so on.”

The report also highlights concern that some public authorities are forcing campaigners to put in FoI requests by “failing to proactively publish information which they are required to”.

It recommends that the information commissioner be given “responsibility for monitoring and ensuring public authorities’ compliance with their proactive publication obligations”. The move would extend the commissioner’s current role to enforce compliance with the requirements to have a proper publication scheme, which does not include specific obligations.

Picture from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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