PR activated as Daily Mail attacks public sector exec pay and defends FOI

An eight-page Daily Mail exposé of the salaries of "public sector fat cats" in the Daily Mail has put pressure on comms teams at various NHS, local government and other public bodies.

Monday's Daily Mail leads with a story headlined 'Greed of the public sector fat cats', listing what it says are the 12 highest-paid public sector employees in the country, compiled following "6,000 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests  and months of painstaking research" undertaken by the Mail and the TaxPayers' Alliance.

The best-remunerated of the "fat cats who will make your blood boil" is Tricia Hart, chief executive of South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust, with a pay package of £1.26m.

A spokeswoman for the trust said it was disappointed with the way the story had been reported, and that it had provided a detailed, 10-page response to four specific questions put to it by the paper. This included rebuttals of Daily Mail claims about the trust's financial situation and mortality and infection rates.

This statement also included a quote from health secretary Jeremy Hunt calling Hart "a wonderful person to work with, full of integrity and a deep commitment to doing the right thing for patients", and explained that executive pay was set by the trust's non-executive remuneration committee, which "makes decisions based on the needs of the organisation, the skills and experience required for executive directors and the external recruitment market".

A press officer at the NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre, whose interim CEO Alan Perkins was second on the list, forwarded PRWeek's request for comment to the Department of Health, which had been dealing with the Mail journalist through his research. The department had not responded by the time of publication.

A spokesman for Police Scotland, which had directors in third and 12th place, said it had sent a detailed response to the Mail. This included denying that a reduction in staff count at the force had been the result of compulsory redundancies.

The Mail's story said the figures "provide a stark illustration of the need for freedom of information", going on to say: "The Government is considering severely curtailing the public's right to know, making it far easier for bosses to cover up their lavish pay."

Last month, the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information published a call for evidence on changes to the legislation, amid fears that the scope of FOI will be narrowed. The deadline for evidence is 20 November.

Another sector that has come under frequent criticism from the Mail and elsewhere for the size of executive pay packets has been charities and not-for-profit groups. Vicky Browning, director of membership network CharityComms, said: "The best response is to emphasise, as consistently as possible across the sector, how vital it is that our public services or charities are run as effectively and efficiently as possible. That entails recruiting and retaining the people best suited to the roles at salaries that are commensurate with their responsibilities, skills and experience. And we have to keep saying it!"

Browning highlighted the response by hospice charity Myton Hospice to one particular report in The Times as particularly effective.

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