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Conservative Chaos Hands Ministers More than £1 Million in Severance Payments

The unprecedented churn in senior government positions means some ministers have been given pay-outs worth more than seven times what they received as their salary

Former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng was in the position for just 38 days. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters/Alamy

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Current and former Government ministers have collectively been paid more than £1 million in severance payments since Boris Johnson was first made Prime Minister in 2019 – amid an unprecedented churn in senior government positions, Byline Times can reveal. 

This newspaper’s investigation analysed the annual accounts of 18 government ministries to find the financial cost of the near constant changes in personnel since Johnson took office.

The support for former ministers goes far beyond that for the public at large, who by law only qualify for statutory redundancy pay after being in a role for two years, and even then they only qualify for a few weeks of additional pay as a result. 

However, Byline Times found that some former Cabinet ministers received more than seven times their actual salary in severance payments.

Since 2019, dozens of politicians have entered and left Cabinet, at a far faster rate than past governments, both thanks to the three different Prime Ministers and the chain of Conservative infighting that has led to multiple rounds of mass resignations.

Many Secretaries of State have left Cabinet under one Prime Minister only to be immediately reappointed by another – some, like Michael Gove, in the exact same Cabinet position they previously held (Gove served as Levelling Up Secretary from September 2021 to July 2022 and then again from October to now).

Byline Times’ analysis suggests that Cabinet positions alone have changed hands some 96 times since the start of 2019 – and that does not include the churn among the dozens of junior government ministers who don’t attend Cabinet meetings (though many of these changes did not qualify for severance payments as they were appointed to new Government roles).

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The recent appointment of David Johnston as Children’s Minister, for example, makes him the seventh person to take on the role in four years. 

Johnston’s new role was triggered by the appointment of Grant Shapps as the new Defence Secretary. Shapps has averaged just over 10 months in each of his various Cabinet positions – in the last year alone he has served as Transport Secretary, Home Secretary, Business Secretary, Energy Secretary and now Defence Secretary.

And that churn of leadership has had led to serious concerns being raised by civil servants and UK industry bodies alike at the impact it will have, especially on the ability of the Government to function and plan future policies, and for ministers to actually understand their brief.

MPs who are appointed as ministers are entitled to a severance of 25% of their annual ministerial salary when they leave the role – regardless of how long they have served.

As a result, 38-day Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng was paid £2,359 in salary payments but received £16,876 in severance after being removed from the role after his disastrous mini-budget last September.

The minimum £1.1 million cost figure is likely to be an underestimate as several government departments had not published their annual accounts for 2022-2023 at the time of this newspaper’s analysis. If current averages held up, however, the estimated cost would be closer to £1.5 million. 

Byline Times could not locate any available annual reports for the Department for Business (which was split into three new departments earlier this year) and could only find 2022-2023 results for the Department for Trade.

The £1.1 million figure also only covers the cost of severance for ministers and does not cover severance payments to advisors or SPADs. 


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The department that spent the most on severance packages for ministers was the Treasury, which allocated a quarter of a million pounds on severance packages, largely because it is responsible for payments to outgoing prime ministers.

Beyond HMT, the departments that spent the most on ministerial severance payments since 2019 were the Foreign Office and the Department for Education – both just under £100,000. 

Liberal Democrat Cabinet Office spokesperson Christine Jardine said: “It is staggering that so many Conservative ministers are being rewarded with taxpayers’ cash for their failure and for the political chaos which they have caused. While families are struggling to pay their bills, it’s insulting that many Conservative ministers leaving their posts are receiving thousands of pounds, some of them after just a few weeks in the job.”

The eight departments that had not released 2022-2023 annual reports were: the Cabinet Office; Health and Social Care; Culture, Media and Sport; the Home Office; the Ministry of Justice; DEFRA; the Northern Ireland Office; and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (which was split into three new departments earlier this year). 

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