Leaders: Public sector must exert prudence from top

NEW figures showing scores of officials on six-figure salaries highlights the need for increased scrutiny of pay

Lena Wilson, head of Scottish Enterprise, has a salary of £205,000. Picture: Contributed
Lena Wilson, head of Scottish Enterprise, has a salary of £205,000. Picture: Contributed

The payment of six-figure salaries to some of our most senior public sector officials has long been a contentious issue, but at a time when cuts enforced by central and local governments are being keenly felt by households up and down the country, the existence of a so-called “rich list” among those working for the likes of government agencies can be particularly galling.

An analysis by the Scottish Green Party has identified no less than 64 employees in the Scottish Government, its non-departmental public bodies and public corporations who are being paid at least £100,000.

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The numbers show that among this elite group, there are some who receive even more than Prime Minister David Cameron or First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Scottish Water’s chief executive, Douglas Millican, is paid around £245,000; Lena Wilson, head of Scottish Enterprise, has a salary of £205,000; while Barry White, the chief executive of the Scottish Futures Trust, is on £180,000.

Few would deny that these organisations play an important role in Scottish life, but coupled with the high wage packets commanded by senior managers across the country’s local authorities and health boards, the latest disclosure is sure to rankle among those public servants of altogether more modest means, such as teachers and nurses.

The figures will doubtless reignite debate and it is to be hoped that some of its finer details will not be obfuscated by the numbers. Why, for instance, do we accept the argument of corporate employers that high salaries – and bonus packages – are necessary to recruit outstanding executives, yet rail against the idea that the same mantra might apply in the public sector?

If there is a vacancy at the top of a national organisation with a multimillion pound budget and a significant number of staff, surely it is desirable to provide a package that attracts only the very best candidates. Otherwise, hiring the wrong person will only squander public money in the long run.

That hypocrisy aside, the Greens have a good point to make. Patrick Harvie, the party’s finance and economy spokesman, said: “If we really aspire to a fairer Scotland we should be closing the pay gap between the frontline and the boardroom.”

With public sector staff across Scotland experiencing a real-terms pay cut, this is a commendable goal and it is right that salaries for senior executives should be put under scrutiny. No-one is proposing that those in well-renumerated posts should have their wages cut overnight, but there is a need for prudence in the long-term.

Salaries should be reviewed whenever an incumbent decides to leave their post, for example, and more should be done to curb the excessive pay-offs that are handed out to departing executives.

We need the best people running our public services but when rank and file workers are being asked to tighten their belts, it is only fair that we ask those at the top to lead by example and take a little less.

Action on flooding cannot wait

At a time of year when home is a place of comfort in which to relax and celebrate with friends and family, the devastating scenes of the flooding that has turned Christmastime into a nightmare for thousands across the north of England are painful to behold.

With further torrid weather forecast for the days ahead, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has warned that parts of Scotland could be in for a tumultuous end to the year, as Storm Frank whips in wet and windy conditions.

With an equally fierce argument brewing over the UK government’s allocation of flood defence resources, there have been pledges made to review the state of preparedness and whether should be done to curb the havoc caused by the severe rainfall.

Just like the extreme weather we are currently enduring, these promises were once exceptional, but over recent years, they have become part of an all too common tale of woe.

Across Britain, flooding is now the routine cause of widespread damage and disruption. The time for arguments about climate change is in the past; the fact is that the measures that served us well in the past are now no longer fit for purpose.

David Rooke, the deputy chief executive of the Environment Agency, warned yesterday that the UK’s climate was entering an era of unknown extremes, and that a complete rethink of flood protection and resilience across the country was now required.

It is crucial that the UK government – as well as the Scottish Government and Sepa – take action. Too many winters have passed without a comprehensive review of our flood defence intrastructure. Let this be the last.