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DfE accused of hypocrisy over London weighting payments

Image: IR_Stone, via Getty Images

Department told OfS to scrap university weighting but pays London salaries to 2,300 employees

The Department for Education has been accused of hypocrisy for paying thousands of its staff a London weighting salary after instructing the Office for Students to remove the London weighting from university grant funding.

Last year, then-education secretary Gavin Williamson asked the OfS to scrap the London weighting that used to see universities in England’s capital receive an increased share of funding through the strategic-priorities grant, formerly known as the teaching grant.

However, a freedom of information request by Research Professional News has shown that, as of 30 June 2022, some 2,311 DfE employees were in receipt of a London-specific pay band as part of their remuneration.

Diana Beech, chief executive of the London Higher group of universities, said the revelation exposed “a worrying trend from government that it is acceptable to apply one rule for others and another for itself”.

“Now that we know the DfE has not been practising what it preached with regard to its own staff salary allocations, the decision from January 2021 that the London weighting can no longer be justified for London’s higher education providers under the levelling-up agenda requires some serious explanation,” Beech said.

“The clear and continued pay differentials between the DfE’s London-based staff and those in its regional outposts, including in Sheffield and Darlington, is all the evidence we need to show that the DfE knows it costs more to live and operate in London.”

She added that with costs in the capital “skyrocketing” and tuition-fee income frozen, there was “no better time for the government to correct the policy ills of the past and reinstate the London weighting”.

Providers in London received about £64 million in London weighting in the 2020-21 academic year before the decision was taken to scrap the payments. A spokesperson for the DfE said it was “ridiculous to compare the strategic-priorities grant, which provides targeted additional funding for universities to support high-cost subjects such as healthcare and Stem [science, technology, engineering and mathematics], with civil service pay”.

Last month, OfS accounts showed that it too was paying a London weighting allowance of £3,496 to some staff in 2020-21. 

“Almost a year since the OfS ruled in favour of abolishing the London weighting for higher education providers in the capital, it is galling to learn that the regulator continued to pay its own eligible staff the salary supplement out of public money,” Beech said at the time.