A ROW has erupted over payments to a handful of senior managers at the State Hospital at Carstairs at a time when nurses on the front line have had their pay frozen.
Questions have been raised about taxpayers’ cash, believed to amount to around £50,000, being shared among seven executives at the South Lanarkshire psychiatric institution.
Scotland on Sunday can reveal that the former chairman of the State Hospitals board claims that the executives are not entitled to the payment, which had its origins as danger money for staff dealing directly with the murderers and rapists treated at Carstairs.
In a recent answer to a parliamentary question, health secretary Alex Neil confirmed that the Carstairs senior management team received a recruitment and retention payment.
But Gordon Craig, the Carstairs board chairman from 2001-11, has claimed that the senior managers were ineligible for the money awarded in June last year because that particular payment was only intended for the 500-or-so staff whose pay is governed by nationally agreed NHS guidelines under the Agenda for Change programme.
Unlike the ordinary nurses and staff working under Agenda for Change, Craig said senior executives have to have changes to their pay approved by Scottish Government ministers.
Craig was also angered by Neil’s answer, which said that “due to an oversight” the payments were not made when they were due and, therefore, had been backdated.
Scotland on Sunday understands the payments were backdated to 2005, when Craig was still board chairman at Carstairs.
Craig argued that the reason senior managers had not received the payment when he was chairman was that they were ineligible.
“As the chair of the State Hospitals Board for Scotland at the time of this so called oversight, I totally refute there was such an oversight. As the minister knows, changes to the pay and conditions of employment of executive and senior staff in the NHS must be approved by ministers. No such approval was given at the time, as any approval must be notified to the board chair as well as the chief executive and head of human resources.
“What did happen was approval was given to recruitment and retention premia to be paid to all staff at the State Hospital paid under Agenda for Change terms and conditions of service.
“This applied to the vast majority of staff, but the pay and conditions of employment for executive and senior staff are set under entirely different arrangements which require ministerial approval and can only be amended by specific ministerial direction.”
Craig added that the payments to senior managers were “shameful” and “morally indefensible” at a time when ordinary workers were feeling the pinch.
He said the payments had “resulted in some of the seven members of the senior management team walking away with a five-figure payment in back pay plus over £1,000 increase in salary while the vast majority of staff had their pay frozen”.
Of the seven senior executives, Craig said three received £10,000-£11,000 and four were paid £5,000-£9,000 when they took the payments in June last year.
Most of the executives to benefit are understood to receive salaries of up to £77,000.
The recruitment and retention premium was introduced in 2005. For staff at Carstairs, it replaced a £1,000 “environmental allowance”, awarded in recognition of the fact that hospital workers were dealing directly with some of the most dangerous patients in Scotland.
Craig also questioned whether the payments had been approved by the State Hospital board’s remuneration committee, which was set up to ensure that changes to the pay of senior staff were properly authorised.
The former board chairman also said Neil should demand the repayment of the cash and order an independent investigation into how the payments were authorised.
Yesterday, Labour’s health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “At a time when front-line staff have seen the value of their take-home pay fall, it is absolutely astonishing that senior managers have rewarded themselves in this way.
“If the Cabinet secretary did not sign this off, there must be an urgent investigation, and if he did, his judgment must be called into question.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government has met with the chair of the State Hospital to discuss this issue.
“Internal auditors have now concluded that the payments are legitimate and it is for the chair of the State Hospital and board to consider if further action or investigation is required.”