Can there be any more surprising discovery of a truth than to find one that is diametrically opposed to what you logically assumed had to be reality, a truth where no other option seemed even a remote possibility? Well colour me surprised then, very bloody surprised to the point of open-mouthed shock at the unavailability of what surely must be, in this new age of transparency, totally within the public interest.
To begin at the beginning: it was with some surprise that I noticed the BBC had discovered via a Freedom of Information Act enquiry that UKBA bosses had been paid £3.5 million in bonuses (the first clue was in that sentence but I was too blind to see it). In a neat little coincidence this coincided with a Freedom of Information Act enquiry that a friend who works tirelessly for the rights of refugees and migrants had put in to UKBA and the somewhat startling information it had uncovered. This has been little reported, but more later. I am also aware of some less than complimentary comments made about UKBA by John Vine The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration in many of the reports he has delivered. See past Kak for an example: https://strummerman.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/when-is-an-amnesty-not-an-amnesty-when-a-goverment-needs-to-cover-up-gross-incompetence/
I have also worked for a number of years with clients of UKBA. The sum of this evidence is I have never ever seen or read about any performance by UKBA that might merit payment of a bonus, unless it was paid in fresh manure, delivered upon the desks of those in charge of this pernicious organisation.
To say my curiosity was aroused was an understatement. It was fairly apparent that shareholders of public companies have a say in the bonus payments their directors get, refusing them at times, for are we not all shareholders in UK inc.? Anyway, the first thing I remember from A level politics is checks and balances, the importance of checks and balances in our political system. Off I went to Google: with the confident assumption the criteria for these bonus awards was nothing more than a couple of mouse clicks away in this new age of transparency. Oh my imperious conceit. So while I did accidently find out how much Tom Watson MP got for going on Have I Got News For You (£1500 for 6 hours) I could not find one bonus target, not one achievement identified as to be bonus worthy. I don’t care who got the money; I just want to know why they got a bonus. I mean are we suddenly rewarding failure? If so, I could be in for a windfall.
First assumption was that I was looking in the wrong place, so a phone call to a close friend, a lecturer in journalism and the Stephen Fry of political facts and information. Just go to Hansard he said, it will all be in there, and as a back up you also have the Public Accounts Committee web site. So off to Hansard, where using the search terms: “Civil Service salary bonus” just got me one “Bill”. “John Mann’s Public Sector Bonuses Bill 2010-2012”, summarised thus: “A Bill to prohibit the payment of bonus payments to higher rate taxpayers working in the public sector; and for connected purposes.” My beating heart was rapidly stilled as I read this: “The Bill failed to complete its passage through Parliament before the end of the session. This means the Bill will make no further progress.” Fell at the first then.
So to the Public Accounts Committee web site; things were starting to look promising, their role – they announce on their web site – is: “The Committee does not consider the formulation or merits of policy (which fall within the scope of departmental select committees); rather it focuses on value-for-money criteria which are based on economy, effectiveness and efficiency.”
Well if anybody is going to have chapter and verse on the criteria for payment of civil service bonuses, it is going to be this lot. Well I will say they are prolific, prolific enough to merit a bonus if I was in charge. But while I could not find any bonus information I did find some interesting nuggets about The Olympics including this: “The number of security guards required in and around the venues has more than doubled from LOCOG’s early estimate of 10,000 guards to 23,700. Consequently, the total cost to the Public Sector Funding Package of venue security has nearly doubled in a year from £282 million in 2010 to £553 million in December 2011. 7,500 of the extra guards will be military personnel. LOCOG and its security contractor, G4S, now face a significant challenge to recruit, train and coordinate all the security guards in time for the Games.”
This NHS patient data base IT nugget also caught my eye,: “BT is paid £9 million to implement systems at each NHS site, even though the same systems have been purchased for under £2 million by NHS organisations outside the Programme We are concerned that, given his significant other responsibilities, David Nicholson has not fully discharged his responsibilities as the Senior Responsible Owner for this project. This has resulted in poor accountability for project performance. Well I hope he isn’t getting a bonus then.
Next idea, I’ll tweet Tom Watson MP, he seems like a man who is able to sense where the bodies might be buried. Perhaps he would know where the now, Holy Grail like details, for the Criteria for Civil Servant’s Bonus Awards would be kept, perhaps they’re buried under a rose bush in Black Rod’s Garden. Alas Tom was in a time of no reply, so if Tom Watson didn’t know who would?
Next stop The Treasury. Hurrah! They have a document called “Civil Service pay guidance 2011-12”. So hope raised again, searched the document to see what it had to say about bonus payment, could I finally find why people were being rewarded so? Well they have this to say about bonuses: “As for last year, all that is required are details of Consolidated and Non- consolidated ISP payments rather than a detailed breakdown of where funds were spent, i.e. revalorisation, progression, bonus payments etc.” Not what one hopes to see when a detailed breakdown is exactly what is required.
Never give up though: a Cabinet Office paper titled ‘Guidance for approval of senior pay’ might be just the thing, especially as it proudly announced “The coalition Government’s programme commits to greater transparency of disclosure in many areas, including remuneration.”
Cool! Finally getting somewhere, for it states:
Bonuses and Performance Pay
Approval of the Chief Secretary is also required before the payment of any bonus or performance payment over £50,000 regardless of the level of the basic salary. This provision applies to existing staff as well as to new appointments. Note that all non-consolidated performance payments paid in respect of a financial year must be aggregated for the purposes of assessing whether a bonus exceeds £50,000. The approval of the Chief Secretary is required before entering into a commitment which might create a legal entitlement to a bonus of £50,000 or more in a financial year.
So at least someone who is elected gets a say so when we hand out the big goody bags such as this from public funds. “The £85,831 payment went to an unnamed senior civil servant who is understood to be a member of the Defence Board.” I have Francis Maud’s personal assurance that “We want to see a more consistent and streamlined system where bonuses are only awarded to those senior civil servants who have performed exceptionally well in achieving their department’s objectives.” I can at least sleep easier in my bed knowing that this will have been scrutinised by an elected minister who will not want to be seen wasting public funds. Oh.
To go on would be to incite boredom, but I did go on, I finally stopped when I found this article:
“The spreadsheet, which is available to download from the Cabinet Office website, includes the salary range, including taxable benefits and allowances of civil servants and the number of days they work a week.
They do not however, include performance related bonuses. While taxable benefits are included in the figures, the Cabinet Office confirmed to Full Fact that “performance related pay” was not included.
So the real annual earnings of senior civil servants remain to be disclosed.”
Though it was from 2010, nothing seems to have changed, for in 2012 a days frenetic internet searching and I could find nothing in the public domain that could give me any rational as to what people did to deserve the 105 million pounds paid out to Whitehall Mandarins, I am not saying none of these people deserved what they got, all I am asking is to be told what they did:
In part two I will lay out the reasons that we seem to be rewarding failure at UKBA, but before I write that, I would just ask one simple question.
So 105 million pounds in bonuses paid to civil servants can only be indicative that the country is being run by the civil service with the quiet bejewelled efficiency of a Swiss watch, it is not like a government of the left or the right to be self effacing with regard to any success it might be responsible for. If targets are being met, budgets being stuck to, innovative thinking implemented, then surely it is a time to rejoice? Every bonus given should begat a positive news story, so come tell us about how well our country is being run, give us the details of all these best practice ideals being delivered, because the opposite is unthinkable: you couldn’t possibly be rewarding failure could you?