The £20,000 benefit bonus rewards for the metropolitan elite at the Department of Work and Pensions

neil couling

Neil Couling – £145,000 a year


Last week I had a story in the Sunday Mirror about top bonuses and pay rises for five of the most senior  and well paid civil servants at the Department of Work and Pensions over the last two years.

The information was published in the annual report and accounts  of the DWP released last month. These same accounts were qualified for the 29th year  running according to the the National Audit Office – because of fraud and error in payouts to claimants rendered them inaccurate and wrong.



Sir Robert Devereux pic credit Twitter

Sir Robert Devereux – £190,000 a year Pic credit : Twitter

The bonuses announcement came at the same time as 31 Labour MPs had called for a pause in the roll out of the ministry’s new Universal Credit  programme – which replaces five benefits – because of reported chaos in its administration leaving some claimants without money for up to six weeks. One of those 31 MPs, Kevan Jones, who represents Durham North said the bonuses were a ” reward for failure”.

He described them as “an insult to many of my constituents who are already living on the breadline. In my constituency they plan to introduce this in November which could leave thousands of people without money in the run up to Christmas.”


Mayank Prakash £220,000 a year including £20,00 bonus Pic credit: DWP Digital

Within days of the publication of the story the FDA ( the First Division Association) which represents the top civil servants attacked the article in a report in Civil Service World.

Jawad Raza, FDA national officer for DWP, said officials should not be used as targets by political opponents of the system simply for doing their jobs.

“The suggestion that these civil servants have been ‘rewarded for failure’ shows a blatant disregard for the facts regarding their pay and

Jeremy Moore pic credit

jeremy moore – £135,000 plus £20,000 bonus

wilfully misrepresents the true complexity of their roles,” he said.

“Senior civil servants have delivered billions of pounds worth of savings since 2010 with an ever reducing workforce. These are highly skilled professionals working in challenging circumstances and they deserve to be adequately remunerated without having their names and faces spread across news pages.”

Sorry Jawad I think there is more to this.

The five civil servants are Sir Robert Devereux, permanent secretary at the Department of Work and Pensions; Neil


Andrew Rhodes – £140,000 a year plus £15,000 bonus

Couling, director general of universal credit; Jeremy Moore, director of strategy; Mayank Prakash, director general of digital technology and Andrew Rhodes, director of operations have received between £10,000 and £20,000 each .They are nearly all paid more than Theresa May, the PM.

The bonuses were awarded for “ top performance “ and “ leadership “when the rest of Whitehall is limited to one per cent pay rises and many benefits have been frozen.

Sir Robert last year received up to £20,000 extra on a salary of up to £185,000 a year. This year he hasn’t received any bonus but his basic salary has moved to £190,000 a year.

Neil Couling, who is directly responsible for universal credit, got a bonus of up to £20,000 last year on a salary of £125,000 a year. This year instead of a bonus his salary has jumped by £20,000 to £145,000 a year.

Mayank Prakash, director of digital strategy has received a bonus of up to £20,000  this yearon top of salary of £200,000 taking his annual salary to £220,000 .

Jeremy Moore, director of strategy, has received bonuses two years running –  totalling up to £40,000 over the two years – taking his total salary to £155,000 a year.

Andrew Rhodes, director of operations has received a £10-15,000 bonus this year, taking his salary to £155,000 a year. He also claimed £37,600 in travel expenses.

The ministry insist that all these pay rises were decided objectively by line managers.

In a statement it said:

Line managers are required to make an evidence-based and objective assessment over whether objectives have been met, not met or exceeded. 

 Individual performance is assessed by the individual’s line manager through an appraisal discussion, with supporting evidence from a range of stakeholders.

But apart from Sir Robert – whose bonus was decided by Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary – the Department declined to say who these line managers are and which outside organisations and people recommended they should get bonuses. The bad news for the DWP is that Kevan Jones plans to table a Parliamentary Question next month to find out who.

Now the FDA has a point that compared to the top of the  private sector they are badly paid. A report put out by the House of Commons library revealed that the top 3000 bankers are ALL earning over £884,000 a year – which makes £20,000 sound small beer. But if anything that reflects that huge growth of inequality in Britain.

At other end of society how effective are these five top men ( note they are all men) in delivering what they are supposed to do. All are responsible in one way or another for the delivery of Universal Credit.

At present they are using Newcastle-upon-Tyne – to roll out the full effect of Universial Credit.

Catherine McKinnell , Labour MP for Newcastle North, said:“ My office has been deluged with complaints from constituents about a Universal Credit system that is clearly struggling to cope and failing to deliver the support that claimants need in anything like an orderly or timely fashion.”

Her debate can be read here.  Suffice to say it reveals a very sorry picture. The  new IT system means people can’t talk to a human. It has  a verification process that requires claimants to produce photographic identification such as a passport or driving licence, “which many simply do not possess and certainly cannot afford, even though some have been in receipt of benefits for several years.”

“I also have numerous examples of Universal Credit claims being shut down before they should be; of documentation being provided to the DWP, at the constituent’s cost, and repeatedly being lost or even destroyed; and of totally conflicting, often incorrect, information being provided to constituents about their claims.”

For a time the ministry effectively banned MPs from taking up cases by making impossible verification demands before they would talk about it.

What this shows to me is a growing disconnect between the people at the top – who are computer savvy, have nice centrally heated homes, no problems with bills, can afford expensive holidays, and can’t conceive of anyone not having a passport – designing a system for poor, dispossessed, desperate people without any understanding of how the world works for them.

It was this disconnect between the elite and the poor  in the USA that led to the rise of Donald Trump and I suspect this huge gulf between the Metropolitan elite – whom top Whitehall civil servants are part – and the provincial poor is in the end going to propel Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street.


Cutting councillors in Newcastle upon Tyne: A dangerous move to dilute democracy

Newcastle: the first place to face serious cuts in its councillors? Pic Credit: Free Foto.Com

Newcastle: the first place to face serious cuts in its councillors?
Pic Credit: FreeFoto.Com

Most political activists know that by 2018 the Conservatives will have succeeded in pushing through boundary changes that will cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600 at a time when the UK’s population is rising.

Not so well-known is that there is a local government equivalent now under way by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England which is not being made nearly as obvious.

Papers circulating among councillors in the Newcastle upon Tyne reveal that the Commission is about to look at a series of big cities as part of an ongoing review of local ward boundaries. The bombshell, I am told, is, as a result, the number of councillors in the city could fall by a massive one-third – from 78 to 54. And that similar exercises could see reductions in councillors in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Bristol.

The rationale behind the Commission’s interest is that changes in voter registration from households to individuals have seen a big drop in people registering to vote. Particularly affected are university students who used to be  registered  en bloc by the authority and now have to register themselves. Newcastle,Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol  and London all have huge student concentrations and registration has plummeted. Also  the growth in privately rented accommodation has seen people not always registering when they change address. Once there a ten per cent difference either way the Commission thinks it should review the authority.

It was the student drop that attracted the Commission’s attention to Newcastle. One ward,Ouseburn. saw figures down 30 per cent. But a registration drive saw this fall confined to four per cent.

Officially the Commission say they have no political motive – though it would hit Labour councils disproportionately – and only act if there are big changes in wards.

It told me:“ The Commission will intervene in authorities where 30% of wards have an imbalance of + or – 10% from the average elector: councillor ratio. This is how the Commission builds the main part of its programme.”

“The Commission has no view on whether the number of councillors should increase, decrease or stay the same for any authority. Each council is treated on a case by case basis and the Commission will make its judgment on the strength of the evidence it sees during the review process.”

It did confirm that big cities were being targeted:

” Several metropolitan authorities will form part of the Commission’s England-wide work programme over the next two years mainly because they have relatively high levels of electoral inequality between wards. ”

However documents circulating in Newcastle suggest differently. They reveal the council asked them to drop the review – because it did not meet the criteria( now only two out of 26 wards meet that figure) but the Commission refused.

The Commission confirmed they have cut councillors outside big cities citing   Stafford (-19 councillors), Suffolk Coastal (-13) and South Bucks (-12). They also say they have not cut councillors in Leicester, York, Bristol and Sheffield.

The one increase is in Hertfordshire which will have 78 councillors – an extra seat is being created in Hatfield in the constituency of Grant Shapps, the former Tory chairman. To be fair the councillors in North Hatfield appear to be a little under represented.

To me this suggests another agenda that it is totally not in keeping with government’s vowed policy to promote localism.

It fits more with an agenda of promoting city mayors to replace elected authorities, slashing local government  costs and  reducing accountability at a very local level.  Would a totally privatised London borough of Barnet need many councillors for example? I am not saying the Commission may have this agenda – more its political masters. But the Commission is not being entirely open about what is happening.You will find none of this information in this blog on the Commission’s website as it says it talks to local authorities ( presumably in private) first.

Luckily at least one Newcastle MP, Nick Brown, a former chief whip, seems to be aware of what could be happening and I fully expect him to start raising this in Parliament.I hope others will do so.