On 31 May 2022, Northern Trains Limited (Northern) wrote to us to demand that we stop publishing the salaries and job titles of the ten highest paid managers at the company. The Department for Transport had released this data in response to a request made via our Freedom of Information service, WhatDoTheyKnow. The request for removal was not only made on behalf of the company, but was also represented as being a request on behalf of the “director group”, which we have interpreted to mean those senior staff at the company whose salary data has been disclosed.
Having carefully considered our position we are continuing to publish this information.
Table: Salaries of the highest paid managers at Northern Rail Limited in £5k bands.
Job title Salary Banding (£) Managing Director 245,001 – 250,000 Chief Operating Officer 210,001 – 215,000 Finance Director 165,001 – 170,000 Commercial and Customer director 150,001 – 155,000 Strategic Development director 145,001 – 150,000 Engineering Director 140,001 – 145,000 People Director 120,001 – 125,000 Regional Director 115,001 – 120,000 Programme Director 110,001 – 115,000
Source: DfT Freedom of Information release – released on at 30/05/2022
There is a strong public interest in favour of the release of information that helps people to understand how resources are apportioned within an organisation. As we understand it, the Department for Transport has dealt with the FOI request in line with current best practice for transparency surrounding senior officials and high earners in the public sector, and has acted in accordance with current guidance from the Information Commissioner.
Northern Trains Limited, which operates under the ‘Northern’ brand, is wholly owned by the Department for Transport. The Government proactively publishes the exact salaries of the highest paid public sector employees as part of their regular proactive transparency releases. It would seem reasonable that Northern would also be expected to make similar information available about the salaries of its most senior staff, particularly when the salaries of senior officials at similar and related companies are already public. This includes those working for Northern’s parent company, DfT OLR Holdings Limited, Network Rail, and High Speed 2 Limited. Northern’s sister company LNER publishes information on the salaries of its directors in £5k bands on p46 of its latest annual accounts. In respect of DfT OLR Holdings Limited, the Government proactively publishes the salaries of their Chief Executive (£235,000-239,999), Group Finance Director (£220,000-£224,999) and Chair (£150,000-£154,999).
Northern routinely publishes exact salary information for junior roles on their careers website, and the material released by the Department for Transport is very similar to this. Recently, Northern has advertised that they will pay a full-time train cleaner based at Wigan £18,500 and a grade B maintenance worker based at Newton Heath £33,035 a year. We believe that Northern should have no objections to us publishing that their Managing Director receives a salary of between £245,001 and £250,000 a year.
We don’t know why the Northern Managing Director’s salary has been omitted from the data proactively published by the Cabinet Office. Perhaps they’ve been confused by the complexity of corporate structures involved, and have not looked beyond companies directly wholly owned by the Government when seeking to identify highly paid and senior public servants who should be included. We asked the Cabinet Office to comment and they shirked responsibility for the data they publish saying:
“Although Cabinet Office compile and publish the £150k list on GOV.UK, other departments provide us with the list of salaries to be included. DfT will have sent us their senior salaries list covering its departments, agencies and non departmental public bodies. You would be best to direct your query to them, and they should be able to advise why this salary fell out of scope.”
We contacted the Department for Transport for comment but as of the time of writing we had not received a substantive response.
We don’t know if there is an issue with the criteria for proactive publication of salaries by the Cabinet Office or if the Department for Transport have not followed the existing criteria.
We strongly believe in preserving and promoting transparency and openness, and the accountability of those in positions of power and in maintaining a public archive of Freedom of Information requests and responses. We carefully consider all requests to remove material from our website. We balance the interests of individuals and organisations asking us to take material down with the interests in favour of continued publication.
Northern’s attempt to keep the salaries of its senior executives secret came while the threat of strike action on the railways over pay was growing. On 7 June 2022, the RMT announced 3 days of national strike action in what it called “the biggest dispute on the network since 1989.” Northern is expected to be one of the companies whose services are affected. When assessing whether to keep publishing the information, we considered the journalistic value of the data released. We expect the senior staff salaries, and the attempt to keep those salaries hidden from the public, may well be considered especially newsworthy during this period. The material that was released will help to inform the ongoing debate around pay levels in this sector.
We list DfT OLR Holdings Limited, and the three rail companies it owns on behalf of the British public, on WhatDoTheyKnow so anyone can make FOI requests to them in public. All the bodies are subject to Freedom of Information law:
We thank Northern Rail for drawing our attention to this release of their senior management salary data, which might otherwise have gone largely unnoticed.
For more information on how we deal with takedown requests like this, and our legal basis for processing personal information see: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/help/privacy#legal_basis
Image: Ben Garratt (Unsplash licence)