The government’s drive to publicise the salaries of senior staff in the public sector is a “terrible” move that runs the risk of unfairly damaging the credibility of employees, experts have warned.
Earlier this week, it emerged that senior HR directors were among the civil servants who earn more than the prime minister, after the names, job title, grade, salary and perks level of 172 Whitehall executives were published.
The figures, part of a coalition pledge for greater transparency, revealed eight HR officials who earned considerably more than David Cameron, who is paid £142,500 a year, with Kevin White, Home Office director-general of HR leading the pack, earning a salary of between £190,000 and £194,000.
Andrew Kakabadse, professor of international management at the Cranfield School of Management, described the action as a “terrible thing”, insisting many public sector officials were underpaid.
Transparency in action
Northamptonshire County Council has begun publishing online all senior manager salaries and council spend over £500.
Christine Reed, head of HR and organisational development, said she provided advice and helped ensure the legal implications were fully understood. She added the information was collated with ease thanks to the council’s Oracle database.
“Before releasing executive salaries, HR needs to ensure it has the agreement of all those employees to have their actual pay published,” she told Personnel Today. “There will always be a tension here until legislation catches up with the transparency agenda.”
“You’ve got someone trying to earn £50,000 who is going to be seen as a villain because the salary is more than the area [average],” he told Personnel Today. “You have to understand the complexities: 70% of senior private executives could not cope with some of the challenges in the public sector either at local or national level. These individuals are considerably underpaid for what they do.”
Mike Cooke, lead officer on reward at the Public People Managers Association, suggested that publishing salaries would infringe an individual’s right to privacy.
“Lots of us have moved to performance-related pay. By publishing details on the internet, we are publishing, de facto, people’s performance,” he said. “That’s fundamentally wrong and a breach of individuals’ rights to privacy, and therefore the HR problem is about the employee relations factor. Senior staff have views, opinions and a propensity to walk away.”
Charles Cotton, reward adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, warned that HR directors and other managers will be unfairly scrutinised and criticised unless role details and their achievements are published alongside the pay data.
“On its own it’s not enough,” he said. “Further steps need to be taken to explain what the values, achievements, behaviours and skills the employer needs to be successful and how these are being rewarded and recognised. The danger is that if we just focus on pay levels, we’ll end up ignoring what council workers are actually doing to earn that amount of money.”
Christine Reed, head of HR and organisational development at Northamptonshire County Council, which is publishing details of all spend over £500 (see box above), agreed. “I do think it’s very important this debate now moves on to not just how much people are paid but, more importantly, what value they and our services offer to our communities,” she said.