Editorial: Top pay in charities is higher than you think

The highest figures in Third Sector's survey are from private hospitals, arts organisations and universities, writes Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook
Stephen Cook

Third Sector's survey of the 100 highest-paid jobs in the 150 highest-income charities reveals some eye-watering numbers, not least the near million-pound salary of a senior executive, until 2011, of the London Clinic, a Harley Street private hospital, and the £850,000 paid to the group chief executive of Nuffield Health.

That's what's different about this list - it includes not only the general charities familiar to us through their fundraising and campaigning, but also several types of organisation that many might not realise are charities: universities, arts bodies and professional associations, as well as the independent hospitals.

The higher salaries in some sub-sectors contribute to an average pay across the top-earning 100 of some £210,000, and a median of £165,000. This wouldn't go down well with the Conservative MP Jeremy Lefroy, who wants to remove charitable status from any oufit that pays anyone more than £100,000.

But if you asked Lefroy if he seriously wanted the Royal Opera House or the hospital that treats the royal family to pay top staff in five figures, he would probably say no. In his strictures he is probably thinking of charity in the narrow, popular sense of organisations raising funds for the poor and needy.

The problem - if problem it be - is the breadth, complexity and arcane provenance of the sector, which is inhabited by many organisations with few of the characteristics popularly associated with the word 'charity'. The nomenclature is a serious hindrance.

In the end, however, the key question is whether these organisations provide public benefit in return for the tax breaks and reputational advantages they enjoy. The Royal Opera House was looked at by the Charity Commission in 2010 and given the green light; private hospitals have not been looked at, although their websites indicate that they have thought about the public benefit requirements introduced in 2006 and believe that they meet them.

Meanwhile, a bit more transparency wouldn't go amiss: the Wellcome Trust's refusal to confirm the name of its highest earner suggests an embarrassment that it should not need to feel.

- Read our analysis

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