Union leaders have slated the appointment of Sue Bruce, chief executive of Edinburgh City Council, to the board of SSE and urged her to concentrate on her primary job at the helm of the Capital’s local authority.
But senior councillors have backed the decision and claimed the new £50,000 position will not impinge on her ability to perform for the city.
Ms Bruce, who will begin the non-executive director role in September, has pledged to donate a slice of her salary to charitable causes in Edinburgh.
It is understood the first beneficiary will be the Tim Cunningham memorial fund set up in tribute to the 32-year-old council employee who fell to his death at Waverley Court last November.
But Ms Bruce will have to buy up 2000 SSE shares – costing around £32,000 – to join the board, leaving far less than £18,000 for good causes after income tax.
Today John Stevenson, branch president of the city council’s largest union, Unison, said the move demonstrated “one law for those at the top and another for the rest”.
He said: “It’s not a good message that the chief executive has enough time to take on a second job.
“At a time of austerity and with all the pressures facing councils, it might be better if Sue Bruce just concentrated on one job.”
Mr Stevenson said he looked forward to a new approach by the council towards time off for union duties.
He said: “We have shop stewards representing people in their own time and having to take leave to go to union meetings, all of which benefits the good running of the council, but is being done at their own expense.”
Green finance spokesman Councillor Gavin Corbett said he would have “misgivings” about the chief executive’s absence if she neglected her duties for more than a day a month.
And Cllr Corbett said while she was “strongly praised” by the Accounts Commission in May, with major challenges ahead for the city “her talents need to be at the helm in the Capital”.
Deputy council leader Cllr Steve Cardownie said Ms Bruce would never “do anything to affect her ability to carry our her primary function” and said her decision to give away her salary was a “fantastic gesture”.
He said: “I just wish more public officials in similar positions would conduct themselves in the same way she has.
“I’m entirely comfortable with it and hope the charities do well out of the fact she is prepared to donate that money.”
The decision by Ms Bruce to refuse her SSE salary while still employed by the city contrasts starkly with Lothian Buses chief Ian Craig, who accepted an £80,000 bonus on top of his £183,000 annual wages.
Council leader Cllr Andrew Burns said of the appointment: “I’m really pleased about this for two main reasons. The first is the personal endorsement for Sue’s abilities, as well as the efforts she has made to engage with the business sector in Edinburgh and further afield, which is so important for many areas of the council’s responsibilities.
“The second is that it’s a recognition that public sector leaders can have a great deal of experience, knowledge and expertise to offer organisations in the private sector.
“Sue asked me before accepting if I was able to give my support to her taking the appointment.
“As I have no doubts at all about Sue’s commitment to the council and how hard she works, I was happy to give her my backing.”
Ms Bruce said it was a “privilege” to have been offered the chance to join the SSE board.
She said: “I’m looking forward to contributing to the critical service that SSE provides for customers, the environment and the wider economy.
“I do, however, also see this as a mutually beneficial arrangement and a natural extension of the partnership approach that the council already has with many companies. There is much from my experience that I hope to bring to the board, but the council’s services can equally benefit through sharing the good practices of the private sector.”
Ms Bruce oversees a £1 billion annual revenue budget at the local authority which employs 15,000 people. She was previously chief executive of Aberdeen City Council and of East Dunbartonshire Council.
Each director of SSE plc is subject to annual re-election, and Ms Bruce will stand for re-election to the board at the company’s first AGM after she takes up her appointment. That AGM will be in July 2014.
Sue Bruce has developed an extensive CV after 37 years in politics:
• Studied law, politics and government at Strathclyde University and public sector negotiation at Harvard.
• Deputy education director at East Ayrshire Council. Appointed director of education, social work, housing and culture at East Dunbartonshire in 2000, then chief executive in 2004.
• Named chief executive of Aberdeen City Council in 2008.
• First public sector leader to get Prince’s Ambassador in Scotland Award for “commitment to responsible business”.