MILLIONS of pounds in taxpayers’ cash is still being paid out in bonuses by public bodies across Scotland despite an official government policy to end them.
Almost £7 million in payouts were made across quangos, the NHS and universities last year, according to figures obtained by The Scotsman under Freedom of Information laws.
Opposition leaders have called on the government to end the payouts, branding them “unfair” at a time of pay restraint for hard-pressed workers.
The extent of the bonuses, which include performance-related pay, have fallen in recent years but come at a time of swingeing cuts to services as austerity continues to bite.
The Scottish Government imposed a ban on public-sector bonuses in official policy five years ago. This remains in place where it has “direct control”, a spokeswoman said last night – but this does not include many quangos, councils and universities.
Edinburgh City Council had one of the biggest bonus bills, with £1.7m spent in 2013-14. In the NHS, some consultants enjoyed payouts of up to £55,000 and senior executives took home more than £5,000 as part of a £3.7m bill in Tayside.
Quangos such as the Forth Bridge and Audit Scotland were among those behind six-figure payouts in recent years.
Even the Scottish Parliament paid out £16,000 – including payments of up to £300 for staff who took on first aid training.
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “The SNP government promised to end these bonuses. Dishing out millions of pounds of bonuses to senior quango bosses is unfair when most public sector workers are still being asked to agree to pay restraint.
“Building a fairer society alongside a stronger economy will require the SNP to act instead of just talking tough on bonuses.” Labour finance spokeswoman Jackie Baillie also hit out at the payments.
She said: “SNP ministers in Edinburgh have serious questions to answer about why so much of taxpayers’ money is being spent on bonuses across the country.
“At a time when there is a major A&E crisis, Scots will be shocked that SNP ministers are authorising big bonuses for senior figures in our NHS.
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“We need a full explanation from SNP ministers about how they have allowed this to happen.”
The Scotsman contacted all of Scotland’s public sector bodies in the latter half of last year for information about bonuses and performance-related pay. Many responded that official policies obliged them to scrap the practice.
The Scottish Canals quango said: “No bonuses/performance-related payments were made for financial years 2012-13 and 2013-14 in accordance with the Scottish Government policy on public sector pay in Scotland.”
But millions of pounds are still being paid out across quangos, councils, the NHS and higher education.
Many staff at Edinburgh City Council took home thousands of pounds in bonuses – including one payout of £22,728.
However, the total in the city has come down to £1.7m in 2013-14 from £2.9m the previous year.
The council said all its bonuses were shared among more than 300 staff and went to “craft operatives”.
The Forth Road Bridge paid out £74,000 last year, spread among 39 staff, but said that no money went to senior management and was instead split between trades, craft and general operatives.
The highest payment by the quango was £2,733, but it insisted this was “linked to productivity and quality of work” and was not a “bonus incentive”.
The payouts to consultants, through discretionary points and distinction awards are widespread across the NHS, but Tayside was the only health board which provided figures in response to the FoI request.
These included a payment of £55,924 to one consultant.
“Consultants may apply for discretionary points,” the board said. “These are consolidated payments in addition to the basic salary.”
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde was among those which did not provide these figures, claiming the term “bonus” implied something over and above normal earnings. But public affairs manager Gordon Robertson did admit that “consolidated and non-consolidated payments to senior managers” are part of a pay settlement agreed by ministers.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “Where we directly control pay, bonuses continue to be suspended and have been for the last five years.
“We continue to bear down on pay and bonuses in the public sector and are committed to a distinctive pay policy that is fair and targets limited resources to those on the lowest incomes.”
Conservative finance spokesman Gavin Brown said: “The Scottish Government does have a responsibility to ensure public money is spent responsibly, and perhaps we need to see action to match the words.
“The public do not appreciate it when their taxes are spent on bonuses unless there is overwhelming evidence these have been earned.”
A spokesman for Taxpayer Scotland said: “We can’t continue to offer these huge handouts to mandarins simply for doing the job taxpayers have already paid them to do.”