Public servants to earn thousands for one night's work

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SOME of Scotland's best-paid public servants are to pocket tens of thousands of pounds in bonuses to work just one night, it has been revealed.

Pay set by the Westminster government to reward "returning officers" taking charge of the Scottish parliamentary elections could mean huge windfalls for chief executives of Scottish local authorities who tak on the role on election night.

Last May, about 200,000 was paid out in bonuses to executives declaring results at the Westminster elections - many of whom already earn more than Prime Minister David Cameron and First Minister Alex Salmond.

This year, the pay could be even higher as additional payments are assigned for supervising the UK-wide referendum on the alternative voting system, which is to be carried out on the same day. For some returning officers, there is also a small fee collectable for declaring regional Scottish Parliament results.

Glasgow's chief executive, George Black, who oversees nine constituencies as returning officer, could earn about 44,000 on top of his 170,000 salary. Last night, his spokesman said the referendum pay - about half the total - would be given to charity.

Sue Bruce, chief executive of Edinburgh city council and returning officer for the city's five constituencies, could earn up to 34,000 on election night, on top of her 158,000 annual salary.

Aberdeen city council's chief executive, Valerie Watts, could claim up to 7,956 as returning officer for the city's three constituencies on the Scottish Parliament ballots alone. Gavin Whitefield, in charge of North Lanarkshire's five counts, could be in line for more than 12,000 before referendum fees are added.

But the government insisted that the fees are only maximum amounts, and returning officers were not required to claim the full pay-out.

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: "A maximum fee is set for returning officers, which they do not have to claim in full.

"The fee is paid for the returning officer's responsibility for organising the election in their area from start to finish, including setting up polling stations, making arrangements for ballot papers and organising the count. It is expected that returning officers are mindful of costs throughout all of these stages and keep costs to a minimum."

She added: "This approach mirrors that taken at previous elections. Overall, the government is saving 30 million by combining the referendum with elections on 5 May."

Pay for the Scottish Parliament counts is determined by the Scotland Office, which published fees last week.The cost of referendum is set by the Cabinet Office, which said last night it would probably publish fees in the coming days.

The maximum sums that can be claimed by returning officers are roughly 2,500-2,700 in each constituency, depending on its size.

A Glasgow council insider said the 2011 payments could spark a watershed moment in the system of asking highly paid officials to take on election duties.

The source said: "I think there is genuine shock among these executives that the payments have spiralled so quickly.

"I think the time is right to look at appointing professional people to step in and run the count."