Bureaucrats across Whitehall are pulling in tens of millions of pounds in bonuses at a time when the Government is attempting to cut waste throughout the public services.
The "performance-related payments", totalling more than £30m in the last year, are far from their only source of extra benefits. An Independent on Sunday investigation has revealed that thousands of staff from top mandarins downwards are taking advantage of an astonishing range of lucrative perks, including gold-plated pensions, first-class travel and hotel stays.
The revelations follow a public outcry after it emerged that Ministry of Defence staff had received millions in bonuses over the past six years.
The 10 highest-paid civil servants, including four heads of government departments, now earn more than £200,000 each, and the number of officials moving into the top pay band has soared in recent years.
The permanent secretaries who head Whitehall departments collectively decided to waive their rights to bonuses last year, "in recognition of the economic background". However, they have maintained their entitlement to a series of further perks, including generous pensions and government drivers.
Further down the management chain, the bonus culture has grown at a dramatic rate in the last five years, as departments follow orders to increase bonus provision to some 8.6 per cent of their total pay bill this year.
The Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) was the biggest payer, with a bonus pot worth almost £22m this year. The Department of Transport handed out a total of £11.2m in performance-related payments.
Average awards at the Cabinet Office, which oversees the bonus schemes, rose from £5,000 in 2004 to £9,260 last year. During the same period, the number of staff at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs receiving bonuses more than trebled to 1,800 – and the highest payment doubled to £15,640.
It has also emerged that civil servants in a dozen government departments spent more than £35.2m on first-class rail tickets in the last financial year – a staggering £135,300 for each working day. The figure for all 19 departments of state is likely to be significantly higher
Paul Burstow, the Lib Dem MP for Sutton and Cheam, said: "It raises serious questions about whether staff are in the wrong place to start with. We also need to know why civil servants aren't using video and teleconferencing instead of spending so much time and money on rail travel."
A Cabinet Office spokesman said civil servants' wages were on average less than private-sector equivalents and they had increased less quickly. He added: "Senior civil servants do not receive 'bonuses' – a portion of their pay is linked directly to performance."