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Fury at salaries of Defra bosses

Fury at salaries of Defra bosses who earn more than Prime Minister

Monday, March 26, 2012Western Morning News

Six executives employed by the government department charged with reviving the flagging farming industry are paid more than the Prime Minister.

The £142,500-plus salaries boasted by Department for Environment (Defra) top brass are in stark contrast to what hard-pressed farmers take home.

Official figures, reported recently by the WMN, show almost one-third of British farmers earn less than the minimum wage. Many will be small family businesses in the Westcountry. A further 39 staff working for Defra and its agencies pocket more than £100,000 – significantly more than the vast majority of workers and farmers working in agriculture.

Westcountry MP George Eustice, whose family owns a farm in West Cornwall, said pay packets above that of David Cameron are "not justified".

The Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth said: "In these difficult times it is essential that the public sector shows pay restraint and salaries which are above that of the Prime Minister are not justified. We must maintain downward pressure on senior pay and curb salaries at the top as new appointments are made."

Melanie Squires, South West regional director of the National Farmers' Union, said: "The salary levels enjoyed by some Defra officials are, sadly for farmers, in stark contrast with incomes across the rest of the agricultural sector, where many people work very long hours in a volatile market place which is often out of their control, for far less financial reward.

"Farms are independent, predominantly family-run units whose income depends in significant part on how efficiently their commercial business is run, and considering the heavy regulatory burden they have to grapple with, it's a shame this principle is not applied more widely to Defra and its agencies."

The Prime Minister's salary has been used as a benchmark for other public sector salaries.

In 2010, it emerged 9,000 public sector employees earned more than the Prime Minister, and 38,000 were paid above £100,000.

The coalition Government says it is clamping down on generous salaries, but critics say it has not happened fast enough.

The latest figures were released by Defra following a Parliamentary question.

They show that two "core" Defra staff, three Environment Agency executives and one senior figure at the Rural Payments Agency are paid £142,500 or more.

Among the 39 paid more than £100,000 but below £142,500 are 14 Environment Agency staff, ten at Defra, four at Kew Gardens in London and three at the Rural Payments Agency.

Statistics released by Defra earlier this month stated 31 per cent of farmers in the UK take returns from their business which work out at less than £6.08 per hour.

The true picture is likely to be markedly worse as the statistics do not take full account of the fact most farmers work far longer hours than their urban counterparts.

The problem of low income has sparked fears of a new urban flight as young people move away from their rural communities to find better-paying jobs.

A Defra spokesman said: "Salaries for all senior staff are in accordance with public sector pay policy.

"Senior staff salaries are set at a level to enable the department to recruit and retain the right people with the right experience and skills."

It is not the first time the salaries paid by Defra and its agencies have been in the spotlight.

Last summer, the Western Morning News revealed the Rural Payments Agency's accounts for 2010-11 showed taxpayers footed a bill of around £500,000 to cover just one director's position.

The agency, which administers around £2 billion of farming grants a year, was in the process of a massive re-organisation amid its botched handling of the Single Farm Payment. It now says it is not relying on expensive interim staff.

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