Sunday, 15 November 2009

Transparency or Voyeurism? How much do I need to know?

It probably started with the Daily Telegraph’s exposure of the abuse of the UK parliamentary expense system, but we do seem to be in danger of indulging in an orgy of public striptease, slowly revealing the most intimate details of our wages and salaries.

Let’s look at a few examples:

MPs expenses

The Daily Telegraph's investigation into Cabinet Ministers' expenses led to the creation of an expenses dossier which contains electronic scans of every expense claim made by MPs since 2005.

The information is so detailed that it is public knowledge that, for example, Jacqui Smith bought a number of items from B&Q at 3.29 pm on 7 April 2008, including six bags of sand at £1.39 per bag.

Similarly, Gordon Brown paid (and claimed) for having his grass cut on 15th May 2008, costing him £35.

Office of National Statistics Salary Survey

Last week saw the publication of the Office of National Statistics annual survey of salaries.

This informs us that the highest-paid category of employee in the UK is Directors and CEOs of major organisations who earn on average £172716 per annum; the most poorly paid employees are in the category of school mid-day assistants who earn on average £3143 per annum.

Trade Union Pay

In August of this year, under the headline of “Trade union leaders receive huge pay rises despite redundancies and salary cuts among members” the Daily Telegraph (yes, it’s them again) published the salaries of many of the UK’s TU leaders, revealing that, for example, Tony Woodley, the joint general secretary of Unite, which with two million members is Britain's biggest trade union was said to have seen an increase in his pay and benefits package last year of 20 per cent, from £88,359 to £105,761.

Chief Executive Pay

Not to be outdone by the Daily Telegraph, in September the Guardian published its list of the salaries of the top FTSE 100 Chief Executives, revealing in the process that the most highly paid chief executive was Bart Becht of Reckitt Benckiser who received £36.8m in pay, bonuses, perks and share incentive schemes.

BBC Salaries

This week the BBC has published information on its senior management structure for those divisions of the BBC which report directly to the Director-General. The information also contains details of senior staff salaries and expenses. All that is required is a couple of clicks and it is there for anyone to see that, to choose a name at random, Tim Davie (Director of BBC Audio & Music and a member of the BBC's Executive Board) last year earned a salary of £325,000, with a total remuneration of £403,000. Oh, and by the way, he ran a team Away Day on 24th February which cost £750.


Not wanting to be left out of the game of “I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours”, even the CIPD felt obliged to hang its washing out to dry in September, and thereby caused quite a stir in the HR community when it announced that CIPD Chief Executive Jackie Orme received a bonus to top up her £300,000 per year salary at a time when other CIPD staff had had a pay freeze imposed on them.

  • There's clearly too much information to digest above, so you're all let off with one simple question today: Is it healthy for so much information to be in the public domain?


  1. Hmmmm Interesting question. If we are paying for it, yes we have a right to know. Perhaps if there were proper audits of expenses we wouldn't need to know. It's sad that these people can't be trusted & therefore the information needs to be in the public domain.

  2. Question is how much do I want to know and when I know what I know what do I do with the information?! How do we understand cost v value?

    Human nature tells me that many people will use this information as a benchmark to pitch for higher salaries.

    What's that I hear....oh it's loud knocking on the doors of CEO's across the land to ask for a pay rise..!

  3. Presumably the pay freeze at the CIPD is the reason why senior managers do not have the common decency to respond to emails that are directly related to their business.