THE controversy surrounding allegations of financial impropriety at the State Hospital, Carstairs, escalated last night when Alex Salmond was dragged into a row over bonuses paid to senior executives.
The former chairman of the Carstairs board, Gordon Craig, has expressed concern over an apparent claim by the First Minister that there was a contractual obligation for seven senior NHS managers at the State Hospital to be paid an extra allowance of about £50,000 between them.
Mr Craig acted after he received a letter from Mr Salmond’s health secretary, Alex Neil, which stated that there was no contractual obligation to pay the bonus to senior managers.
Yesterday it emerged that Mr Craig, Carstairs chairman from 2001-11, has written to the Scottish Government raising his concerns about Mr Salmond’s explanation for the payments, which he offered in the Holyrood chamber last month.
His intervention comes when an investigation is being conducted into the finances and claims of bullying at the South Lanarkshire psychiatric institution.
Following the bullying allegations, the chief executive, Andreana Adamson, has stepped aside from her £115,000-a-year role while the inquiry is carried out.
Mr Craig believes Mr Salmond’s explanation of why the executives got the cash does not tally with the one he received from Mr Neil.
The controversy began last month when it was claimed that senior managers, most of whom earn up to £77,000-a-year, were not entitled to the money awarded in June last year on top of their salaries and which was backdated to 2005.
On 6 June this year, Mr Salmond was quizzed on the issue by Labour’s then health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie.
In his response, Mr Salmond referred to an 18 October, 2006 health department document, insisting it made clear that “unless specified otherwise” managers were also covered by the Agenda for Change (a pay agreement).
The First Minister added: “Jackie Baillie will have noticed that the terms of 24 June, 2005 [a previous Agenda for Change document] and 18 October, 2006 follow the contractual obligations.
“She cannot seriously be suggesting that contractual obligations, particularly those that were negotiated under the previous Labour-Liberal government, should not be followed through.”
When he became aware of the parliamentary exchange, Mr Craig wrote to Mr Salmond arguing that for a “nebulous paragraph” in the 2006 document to be interpreted as a contractual obligation for the bonuses to be paid was “stretching credibility way beyond the limit”.
Mr Neil responded on behalf of the Scottish Government and wrote to Mr Craig. His letter appeared to offer a different take on whether or not there was a contractual obligation for the cash to be paid.
The health secretary disagreed with Mr Craig’s assertion that the payments were inappropriate. But he went on to say: “Although, there is no contractual obligation to pay the allowance to Senior Managers, the Board may do so where it is satisfied that the managers concerned fulfil the necessary criteria.”
In his most recent letter to the health secretary, Mr Craig states: “You both cannot be right as you are saying it is not a contractual obligation and the First Minister is saying it is a contractual obligation.”
Last night, Neil Findlay, Labour’s health spokesman, said: “We need clarity on this issue and we need it quickly.”
It is understood the Scottish Government’s position is that there is no direct contractual obligation within the October 2006 document for a recruitment and retention payment. But it maintains that the document says that terms and conditions defer to Agenda for Change contractual obligations on any issue not specifically excluded in the document, meaning managers are entitled to the payment.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “As the First Minister and the letter from the health secretary both make clear, unless specified otherwise, managers are covered by the agenda for change contractual obligations.”