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Pressure was growing on charity bosses last night after it was revealed at least 30 were enjoying salaries of more than £100,000 a year.
International Development Secretary Justine Greening said the finances of major aid organisations – which receive hundreds of millions of pounds from taxpayers – must be open to scrutiny.
But as the head of the Charity Commission said the deals ‘risk bringing the charitable world into disrepute’, one aid boss insisted donors ‘don’t mind’ funding executives’ six-figure salaries.
In an astonishing outburst, Sir Stephen Bubb said raising the issue was a ‘disgraceful distraction’.
He claimed their high salaries would not put people off giving saying: ‘This simply isn’t an issue for donors. They are more concerned about the outcomes, the performance and the efficiency of these organisations.’
Sir Stephen, head of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, whose own salary is believed to be more than £100,000, added: ‘To keep talent, really strong people, at the top of these organisations, they need to be paid properly.
‘These are still not excessive salaries when you compare them to the public and private sectors. It’s essential that the sector attracts skilled and experienced professionals, not keen amateurs.’
He insisted top charity executives earned far less than the leaders of councils, or their counterparts in the private sector, and that the average salary for a charity boss was £58,000.
Writing on his blog, he also accused right-wingers of hating charities. He wrote: 'Many MPs on the right hate effective charities who campaign.
'They particularly dislike international charities who have been so effective in raising the concerns of the world's poor. So lets be robust
in defending pay.'
Miss Greening said charities should disclose their pay packets and prove to supporters that their money is well spent.
She said the figures were a ‘clarion call for charities to be more open about value for money’. ‘As government has, it is time for them to grasp the nettle on transparency’, she said.
Figures revealed that the highest paid charity boss included Justin Forsyth, a former Labour Party adviser who earns £163,000 as chief executive of Save the Children.
British Red Cross chief executive Sir Nick Young, a former City lawyer earned £184,000 last year, while Dame Barbara Stocking of Oxfam took home £119,560 before stepping down this year.
Six staff earn more than the Prime Minister’s £142,500 salary at the 14 charities which make up the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) – which brings together aid organisations to raise money quickly for the victims of natural disasters.
High earners do not need to be identified in its annual accounts, and the top salary of between £190,000 and £200,000 was given to an unnamed employee at the British Red Cross.
These charities rely on public funds, having received more than £1.1billion over the past three years from the Government, the United Nations and the EU.
There are 186 staff earning over £60,000 – a 16 per cent rise in three years, while the number on six-figure salaries has risen from 22 in 2010 to 30 last year. Comic Relief, which is separate from the DEC, pays its chief executive Kevil Cahill CBE a salary of £130,000 and has 21 members of staff on more than £60,000.
'Taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent': Tory MP Priti Patel, who got the figures
William Shawcross, the chairman of the Charity Commission, said: ‘It is not for the Commission to tell charities how much they should pay their executives.
'However in these difficult times, when many charities are experiencing shortfalls, trustees should consider whether very high salaries are really appropriate, and fair to both the donors and the taxpayers who fund charities.
'Disproportionate salaries risk bringing organisations and the wider charitable world into disrepute.’
Tory MP Priti Patel, who obtained the figures, said: ‘Hard-pressed taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent and will be shocked to see so many highly-paid executives in charities that are dependent on public funds.
'This money should be focused on delivering front-line services rather than lining the pockets of unaccountable charity executives.’
At Save the Children, three staff earn more than £140,000. The highest is chief operating officer Annabel Hoult who earned £168,653 last year.
A spokesman said: ‘To run an organisation that reaches ten million children in more than 50 countries, with thousands of staff, in some of the toughest places in the world takes real leadership, experience, knowledge and skill.’
Oxfam, whose chief executive’s salary has risen 19 per cent in three years, said it was lower than other large charities.
A spokesman added: ‘We believe this is a fair reward for a job that involved long hours and large amount of time away from family and overseeing a £360million organisation’.
New boss Mark Goldring is responsible for 5,000 staff in its hundreds of charity shops and in the field in developing countries – of which 35 earn £60,000 or more.
A Red Cross spokesman said Sir Nick’s salary, the highest of all the chief executives surveyed, reflected ‘the enormous responsibility the position carries’.
At Age UK, the leading ageing charity of which Age International is a subsidiary, 11 earn six-figures and two earn between £180,000 and £190,000, although they do not work at the international arm of the charity.
A spokesman said: ‘Age International’s priority is to ensure that the lives of vulnerable older people are improved as effectively as possible in 40 low and middle income countries and the trustees feel that it is important to ensure that we have the best people in place to achieve this.’