by Atul Hatwal
Last week Uncut carried news of another restructure at Labour HQ, with the party’s executive directors now reporting to Spencer Livermore instead of general secretary, Iain McNicol. It prompted one member of the team at Brewer’s Green to get in touch and draw our attention to something very peculiar: the strange case of the Labour party wage bill.
Normally a political party’s wage bill rises in the run-up to a general election as new staff are taken-on to gear up for battle. It then falls immediately following the contest, with parties’ reverting to their core staff team, until the election drum-beat sounds again later in the new electoral cycle.
Or, at least that’s how things used to be. Since 2010, Labour has taken a very different path.
After the general election, rather than the numbers in the staff team falling, they went up. In 2010, according to the Labour party accounts it employed an average of 247 full time equivalent employees (assuming part-time staff are 0.5 of a full time equivalent or fte). One year later, the number had risen to 288 fte with the party wage bill rising from £12.2m in 2010 to £13.1m in 2011.
Partially this was a result of moving from government to opposition, with large numbers of advisers moving from the civil service payroll onto the Labour party’s books. But even then, it was quite striking for numbers and costs to rise so steeply.
By way of comparison, in 2010, according to the Conservative party accounts, the average number of staff employed was 221 at a cost of £11.7m.
This means in 2011, at the point in the electoral cycle when costs should have been at their lowest, Labour was employing 67 more staff than the Tories had had to fight the general election and spending £1.4m more on its wage bill.
Since then, according to the latest accounts, the numbers employed dropped back to 278 fte in 2012. Admittedly, this is still much higher than at the election in 2010 but at least the direction of travel is more in sync with the electoral cycle.
However, the same cannot be said for the wage bill.
Even though the numbers employed by the party dropped from 288 fte to 278, the wage bill ballooned, rising from £13.1m in 2011 to £14.6m in 2012.
This is extraordinary.
It means the party is paying £2.4m a year more than it did in 2010 for its staff team. The average salary per party employee (excluding social security contributions and pensions) for Labour is now £43,320 compared to £39,192 for Tory party workers.
Eyebrows will be raised in the Labour party team because, of course, £43,320 is significantly higher than the salary received by most staff. Every single party worker is not a higher rate tax-payer. So the question is: where is the money going?
The only answer seems to be that some senior Labour party staff members are on extremely generous terms and conditions. A party source from head office in Brewer’s Green told Uncut,
“There are all sorts of rumours about what the top people are on and a lot of unhappiness. It looks a lot like one rule for them, another for the rest of us when it comes to pay.”
In the 2000s, Labour general secretaries Peter Watt, and then Ray Collins, saved the party from financial disaster. Their tough management reined in cost, delivered core political services and set the party on the path back to financial health.
The spiraling wage costs of recent years suggest the party maybe slipping back into bad habits; and in the process, generating deep discontent within the wider party staff team.
Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut