Black female official 'was paid more to limit 'reputational damage'

Black female civil servant was paid £52,000 more than white male colleague for same job because Home Office was concerned about ‘reputational damage’, employment tribunal hears

  • Civil servant Matthew Parr is suing Government for sex and race discrimination 
  • He claims that being a white man meant he was paid less than Wendy Williams
  • Both are one of five HM Inspectors of Constabulary who act as police watchdogs

A senior civil servant has accused the Government of seeking to avoid ‘reputational damage’ by paying a black female colleague £52,000 more than him.

Matthew Parr is suing the Home Office for sex and race discrimination after discovering he was earning less than his counterpart for doing the same job. 

He claims that being a white man meant he was paid a £133,983 salary, plus £7,904 living allowance, while Wendy Williams took home £185,000.

Both are one of five HM Inspectors of Constabulary (HMIs) who act as watchdogs for the UK’s police forces.  

Mr Parr, a former rear admiral, was appointed in 2016 during Theresa May’s tenure as Home Secretary when Whitehall was driving down the salaries of top officials.  

An employment tribunal heard that at the time of Ms Williams’ appointment 15 months earlier, the Treasury was also trying to reduce pay packets.

But it heard that mandarins agreed she would be paid the top £185,000 salary as awarding her less than existing HMIs could open the Government up to a discrimination challenge.

Mr Parr said in a witness statement: ‘Documents disclosed by the Respondent make clear that Wendy Williams was paid the top of the band then in force, because of concern that to pay her less than her fellow HMIs presented the Government with a risk of legal challenge on the grounds of discrimination and of reputational damage.’ 

He claims his ‘race and sex had a clear influence’ on the decision to pay him the substantially less £133,983 when he came into post.

The Government denies sex and race discrimination and maintains that plans to lower salaries were always going to come into force regardless of the person who took the position. 

Matthew Parr is suing the Home Office for sex and race discrimination after discovering he was earning less than his counterpart Wendy Williams (right) for doing the same job.

Mr Parr, is responsible for police forces in London, Bedfordshire, Northern Ireland, the National Crime Agency, the Counter Terrorism Policing Network, national forces such as British Transport Police and forces in Overseas Territories.

He also looks after the London Fire Brigade and five other services, while Ms Williams oversees forces in Wales and the west of England.

Mr Parr said it was ‘a question of fairness’ that he should be paid the same as Ms Williams.  

He told the Central London Employment Tribunal said: ‘The Respondent, upon my appointment, and after an appeal, has refused to extend to me the same favourable treatment. 

‘I am a white man. I recognise that I am not the typical claimant to the Employment Tribunal in cases of equal pay and discrimination.

‘I also recognise that I am paid a relatively high salary. Indeed, were all HMIs to be paid the salary currently paid to me I would be entirely satisfied.

‘This is, for me, principally a question of fairness.

‘I have been a public servant for more than 35 years and have, until now, worked in organisations determined to treat people equitably.

‘But the Respondent has a different approach: it is fundamentally unfair to pay people wildly different amounts for doing what is, by any measure, identical work.

‘I understand that the Respondent has a responsibility for prudent stewardship of public money.

Mr Parr in his Royal Navy rear admiral uniform. He joined HM Inspector of Constabulary in 2016 and oversees the inspection of Met Police and the National Crime Agency, among other organisations

‘The consistent and long-term aim of the Respondent, in concert with HM Treasury, has been to reduce the pay of HMIs; I do not assert that this is an unreasonable or illegitimate aim.

‘But the means by which the Respondent has attempted to drive down pay have been ham-fisted and badly thought through; they have involved treating people unfairly and, I assert in this claim, unlawfully.

‘They have involved defending some indefensible positions, and, on occasion, behaviour which reflects badly on some senior people.’  

The tribunal was told that in January 2016 Ms May wrote to Sir Thomas Winsor HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary to introduce a scale of £134,000-£191,000 with ‘an explicit presumption that any increase beyond the bottom has a considered justification’.

A few weeks later Mark Sedwill, the permanent secretary at the Home Office, now Sir Mark, wrote to Sir Nicholas Macpherson, his counterpart at the Treasury, who now sits in the house of Lords as Baron Macpherson of Earl’s Court, proposing the £134,000-£191,000 scale. 

The tribunal was told that the letter acknowledged that during Wendy Williams’ appointment the Home Office was under pressure from the Treasury to apply downward pressure on salaries.

The Treasury had advised that appointments should be made on a scale of £165,000-£186,000 and that a salary at the lower end of the scale should be negotiated.

Ms Williams was appointed at the top of the range because, according to the letter: ‘The Home Office was concerned that to pay her less than her fellow HMIs presented the government with a risk of a legal challenge on the grounds of discrimination.’

At the request of Ms Williams and the Home Office, the tribunal had asked to keep details of her pay negotiations secret – but the tribunal refused, saying the salaries were a matter of public record and the machinations behind them should also be public.

Current Home Secretary Priti Patel took the case to an Employment Appeal Tribunal to try to get the decision overturned.

But her case was rejected by Mr Justice Griffiths on the grounds of open justice. 

 Current Home Secretary Priti Patel (pictured last month) tried to appeal a judge’s decision to make Ms Williams’ pay public – but lost

The full tribunal hearing heard that Mr Parr only accepted the pay in June 2016 because he was concerned the Brexit referendum would cause government upheaval and disruption to the hiring process. 

It was only when he entered the position that he became aware of discrimination, he alleges, and that the pay of a Deputy Assistant Commissioner in the Metropolitan Police was £1,447 higher than his salary including allowances despite his role being responsible for inspecting many forces.

Mr Parr claims that, from May 2014, the Treasury advised Ms May to lower salaries for pay packets of HMIs. Appointment terms are between three to five years and can be re-appointed.

As Ms Williams’ previous pay as a high-ranking official in the Crown Prosecution Service was £107,000, it was first considered that her pay as an HMI would be £165,000 – which she appeared to be happy with according to tribunal evidence.

Sir Thomas Winsor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, said at the tribunal that this pay was ‘unjustifiable’ considering a white man had been appointed at £185,791 in a similar position only six months earlier.

He said he raised it with the Home Office, citing discrimination law, saying ‘there was no good reason why she should be paid differently’.

Mr Parr said evidence showed civil servant David Lamberti, at the Home Office, felt unable to defend why Ms Williams should be paid lower and recommended a benchmarking exercise to undertake a legal defence of providing lower salaries.

He said: ‘He recommended appointing Wendy Williams at the same salary and making her appointment the ‘last of the series’.

‘This makes it clear that the benchmarking exercise was only conducted because the Home Office had been left with no option but to pay Wendy Williams the top of the scale.’

He added: ‘The only difference between her treatment and mine is that she was placed at the top of the band, rather than at the bottom.

‘I do not believe the [new] policy is a material difference between Wendy Williams’ treatment and mine.

‘That ‘policy’ was a revised version of the one in existence for Wendy Williams’ appointment. The policy was not the reason for my treatment.

‘I am a white male – my race and sex had a clear influence in the first and later decisions on my pay.

‘It is also, clearly, a policy that was influenced by race and sex: it was only revised as a consequence of Wendy Williams’ favourable treatment.’

High-ranking civil servant Mr Lamberti, on behalf of the Home Secretary, said: ‘Wendy’s pay offer was increased because we decided that, no formal benchmarking or evidential exercise having taken place evidencing how the new pay range had been arrived at, it was not sound.

‘There was therefore no sound basis to justify paying Wendy less than the existing HMIs.

‘HMI pay would be benchmarked to determine an evidence-based new pay scale for future appointments.

‘The reason why [Mr Parr] was offered the appointment with a base pay of £133,983 was because this was in accordance with the new pay scales and policy for HMI of Constabulary appointments.

‘The government’s policy was, as the record shows, that the new pay scales and policy introduced in 2016 were to apply to all candidates, regardless of sex and/or race.’

Ben Collins QC, a barrister defending Ms Patel, said at the remote hearing tribunal: ‘At the time of Ms Williams’ appointment there wasn’t an established or reasonable policy on how to set HMI pay.

‘It might be said that a general desire to push pay downwards isn’t a self-contained policy – it’s an aspiration. There wasn’t an established policy.

‘There is now an evidence-based rationale pinning the policy and the policy was in place when he was offered the appointment.

‘He was the first person after the policy was put in place. The second person had the same approach taken with his salary.

‘If Mr Parr had been a black woman, he would have received the same response.’

He added: ‘The question is whether the difference in treatment is sex, it’s not whether the [pay] gap is too large or otherwise.’

The tribunal heard Ms Patel wrote to all HMIs and said pay would be fixed as the same as chief policy officers, meaning Mr Parr is now on £175,000 – backdated to December 2018.

Mr Parr claims this was only because doing this would ‘make things easier for officials in preparing’ for the tribunal.

Sally Robertson, a barrister representing Mr Parr, said: ‘It’s more than being unfair.

‘It’s plainly not fair to have a gap of £52,000 of people doing the same job. It’s not the same as an incremental scale.’

The judge is expected to announce his verdict in a few weeks. 

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