300 EU officials earn more than the Prime Minister

Latest revelation about the EU gravy train shows that some of our officials earn £142,500+.

At least 300 of the UK's appointed staff to the EU earn more than the Prime Minister's salary of £142,500, the Foreign Office has confirmed.

In a response to a parliamentary question on the subject, Lord Howell of Guildford, the Foreign Office minister in the Lords, stated that while the FO did not hold details of individual salaries, 300 of the UK's officials are on salary scales for which the minimum pay is greater than €170,000 -- the equivalent of the Prime Minister's wage at current exchange rates.

All 27 members of the EU's College of Commissioners earn more than this, including the UK's member, Cathy Ashton, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who is the world's highest-paid female politician, taking home £328,000 a year.

As well as providing the facts, Howell also expressed guarded regret at the wage bill for these appointed officials, saying it was "only right" that, at a time when EU governments were cutting spending, institutions should "think carefully" and "ensure that they get the most for their money".

He went on to say that the Foreign Office is pushing for a "freeze" in the 2011 Budget, and "expects salary levels to reflect the current economic conditions".

Lord Stoddart, the independent Labour peer who tabled the question, condemned the existence of "an unelected governing elite in Brussels" and said: "It would appear that, by comparison to this pampered and overpaid elite, our Prime Minister is a somewhat underpaid office junior!"

He also pointed out that the information from the Foreign Office concerns salaries only, and does not cover the expenses and other allowances available to these officials, which have long been the subject of controversy.

Back in 2007, it was revealed that MEPs were reimbursed for travel on the basis of first-class fares plus 20 per cent, with no obligation to provide receipts. Baroness Ashton, for instance, in addition to her salary, has a private staff of 20 and a chauffeured car. The MEP Nigel Farage last year infamously boasted that he had taken "pushing £2m" of taxpayers' money to promote Ukip's message of withdrawal from the EU in Europe.

The list goes on. The revelation about the salaries for the UK's unelected EU officials is only a small part of the picture. And as Howell has hinted, with vicious spending cuts at home, this vast expenditure of public funds on EU staffers is utterly outrageous.

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Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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