Spotlight on salaries of council chiefs

the number of senior officers at Scottish Borders Council earning over £100,000 has increased from two to six, as a pay rise in 2010 increased the salaries of four senior directors earning just under that figure to over the £100,000 mark.

When the council published its unaudited accounts for 2010-11 on their website, which for the first time included a list of salaries for specific posts, they also showed that the number of staff on over £50,000 has risen to 107 from 97 the year before: 62 teachers; two manual workers; 26 chief officers; and 17 other staff. Again most were earning just under £50,000 in the previous financial year and the agreements already in place during the year ended March 31, 2011, increased their salaries to over £50,000

Among senior staff, out-going chief executive David Hume received a total, including allowances, of £123,008, which includes the £3,500 fee for acting as returning officer for elections. And pension lump sums and annual pensions earned by senior officers show Mr Hume will leave with a possible pension lump sum of £135,000, plus an annual pension of £49,000.

Other top posts are: director of education £101,393 (£99,077); director of social work £101,393 (£99,108); director of resources, £101,039 (£96,470 in 2010-11); director of planning £91,105 (£89,040); and head of legal services £71,936 (£70,183).

Coming just four months after council staff, represented by the GMB, Unison and Unite unions, agreed to a three year pay freeze in return for a promise of no complusory redundancies, disclosure of the salary increases for the top earners has prompted an angry response from union officials.

Unite regional industrial organiser, Ian McDonald said: “Most employees in Scottish Borders Council had a pay rise of 0.65 per cent in 2010, zero in 2011 and will get zero in 2012, which, with current and projected rates of inflation, is effectively a pay cut. Yet 107 already highly paid officers get substantial increases in pay. It’s an intriguing and highly unfair way of sharing the pain.”

However, council leader David Parker said the difference in pay awards to staff in 2010-11 was due to the different national negotiations that took place.

“Teachers and chief officers received a high rate of pay increase in that year because they were in the final year of a three-year deal,” he said.

These increases included: 2.4% for teachers; 2.5% for chief officers; and 0.65% for other staff effective from April 1, 2010.

“A similar pay increase and three-year deal had been offered to all other staff but the unions representing them rejected that offer and chose to go for one-year agreements instead, which ultimately led to them receiving a worse deal than the one that they had been offered and rejected three years previously,” added Councillor Parker.

“Scottish Borders Council is one of the most responsible authorities in the country in relation to pay for chief officers. We pay below what many local authorities do and we constantly strive to limit the number of chief officers that the authority employs, and in fact we have fewer chief officers than most. It is also the case that we are the only council in Scotland who has an absolute pay freeze for all staff from April 1, 2011 onwards, for the next two years.”

“It should be noted that in 2011/12 the council will operate with one less director (reduced from five to four) and we have recently removed two head of service posts which will be reflected in the 2011/12 accounts.

The pay freeze for all staff on over £21,000 a year will save Scottish Borders Council almost £5 million, and SBC’s depute leader Alec Nicol interpreted the agreement reached with the unions as proof that staff appreciate the difficult financial situation the authority is in.

He said at the time: “The mandate we have been given says a lot about the loyalty and commitment of our employees, and we are repaying them by giving assurances there will be no compulsory job losses over the period of the deal.”

The settlement also brought 626 low-paid, mainly female staff, then earning as little as £6.41 per hour, on to what has been described by the council’s executive as the Scottish Borders living wage of £7.15. Staff earning less than £21,000 a year will get an incremental rise in this financial year but along with all other staff will be subject to a pay freeze for the next two years.

Teachers will continue to receive incremental progression, as they are not covered by the local agreement.

Despite the explanations offered by Mr Parker, Borders Party councillor Nicholas Watson remains unimpressed by the message the salary revelations sends out.

“Many things have been negotiated in the past, or elsewhere, but that does not rule out re-negotiation,” he said.

“Renegotiating for the last year might be unusual, but there is certainly a lesson to be learnt for future negotiations, and for when new staff are taken on.”

Councillor Watson added that the figures show what he called a “worrying lack of focus” that he believes exists at a senior level in the local authority when it comes to delivering value for money.

“At a time of national crisis, when the economy has shrunk by six per cent, and workers throughout the Borders are losing their jobs or taking pay cuts, the council needs to concentrate on cutting unnecessary costs, not awarding pay rises to well-heeled executives,” he continued.

“There seems to be, at the highest level, a lack of understanding of the plight that we’re in. When the private sector is experiencing severe difficulties, when numbers of headteachers are going down, and hardworking council employees are seeing their pay frozen or cut, it seems bizarre that senior council officials should be being awarded pay rises.

“How do you explain that to Borderers who have paid thousands of pounds in council tax since the recession started? To maintain employment in exceptionally difficult times we have to be realistic about what salaries can be afforded, and this should apply from top to bottom.”

But Councillor Parker rebuffed the criticism of the Borders Party and others, saying that if they felt that changes should have been made to the three year deal in place for teachers and chief officers then they should have said so when this year’s budget was being discussed.

The Borders Party say that the way SBC works in terms of its budget and value for money, neede to be reassessed.

Borders Party councillor, Sandy Aitchison said: “The Borders Party is conducting a review of council operations to ensure that council taxpayers get the best service at the best value, while council employees are rewarded properly for the hard work they do,” he said.