Holyrood moves to put the brakes on tsar, tsars galore

THE Scottish Parliament is to clamp down on the salaries and spending of Scotland's growing band of public sector "tsars".

MSPs are set to impose tough financial constraints on the five commissioners and the ombudsman who report to Holyrood, after discovering there were no formal limits to their spending.

They are also poised to establish a watchdog body to regulate the pay and conditions of the 'tsars', who between them spend 6 million a year of taxpayers' money.

The finance control proposals come in a report by Audit Scotland to the Scottish Parliamentary corporate body, the SPCB, which is responsible for Holyrood's finances.

George Reid, the Presiding Officer, called in the spending watchdog last year to investigate the 'tsars' and the report will be discussed by Holyrood's finance committee next week.

In the 20-page document, Audit Scotland makes a series of recommendations including:

• giving the SPCB "explicit responsibility and the necessary powers and resources" to oversee the business operations of the ombudsman and commissioners

• setting up a remuneration committee, made up mainly of independent experts, to look at the pay and employment terms of the office holders

• insisting there is an investigation into the tsars' sharing offices, computer technology and even staff, to cut bureaucracy and administration costs.

Audit Scotland says adopting these scrutiny measures should not compromise the independence of tsars, such as the ombudsman and the information commissioner, who have to investigate public bodies, including the parliament itself.

The report says: "The scrutiny should be designed to avoid any suggestion that the SPCB can compromise the independence and integrity of the office holders." The spending watchdog also recommends that if further tsars are to be set up - Holyrood is currently debating the establishment of a human rights commissioner - parliament should consider whether the duties could "be subsumed into existing organisational structures".

Last night MSPs on the finance committee welcomed the recommendations. The spokesman for the SPCB refused to comment but The Scotsman understands the finance committee is set to endorse the proposals and that the SPCB will also adopt the Audit Scotland plans.

The idea of sharing offices will be endorsed by MSPs but will be difficult in practice. Kevin Dunion, the information commissioner, has offices leased until 2021 in St Andrews.

Prof Kathleen Marshall, the children's commissioner, has a lease with 13 years to run on her office in Edinburgh, while Prof Alice Brown, the ombudsman, has a lease on her Edinburgh office lasting until 2018.

It is also unlikely that the proposed remuneration committee will be able to influence the current pay of the five office holders, whose pay and conditions vary.

According to the latest figures, Prof Brown is paid 84,477 a year for overseeing a staff of 38 plus three part-time deputies.

Mr Dunion receives 77,722 and has a staff of 16. Jim Dyer, the Scottish parliamentary standards commissioner, who works five to ten days per month, is paid 38,533 but has no staff.

Prof Marshall gets 74,520 for running an organisation with 14 employees, and Karen Carlton, the commissioner for public appointments in Scotland, works three days a week, for 43,470. Des McNulty, the chairman of the finance committee, said: "There is definitely an issue over remuneration which will have to be dealt with in the future, although it should be handled with sensitivity."

A Scottish Parliament spokesman said: "The SPCB has made a commitment to discuss this report with the finance committee so it would inappropriate to make any comment in advance of the meeting on 27 June."