More Scottish council staff paid £50k-plus - despite austerity

The number of Town Hall bosses in Scotland on lucrative pay and remuneration packages has increased in the past year, it has emerged.

Chief Executive of City of Edinburgh Council. Picture: Andrew Kerr

The amount of staff on deals topping £50,000 across the country went up by 135. At the top end of the scale, there has also been an increase in the number of executives on packages topping £80,000, while those on deals worth £100,000 was also up by 15, according to local authority annual accounts.

Some councils say the overall packages include severance deals and pension “strain” and point to high levels of departures during 2017/18. Others say it has been down to “natural progression” through pay grades, rather than more high earners being taken on.

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But it has prompted question marks about the spending priorities of local authorities.

More than two-thirds of Scotland’s 32 councils presided over an increase in the number of staff earning £50,000 in total remuneration.

Town Halls are required to set out how many staff are on higher remuneration packages – deemed to be more than £50,000 – in line with financial rules.

Fife, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire were among the areas which oversaw the highest rises in 2017/18, according to councils’ own figures.

Tory local government spokesman Alexander Stewart said: “The increase in highly-paid staff members comes despite efficiency savings and the SNP cutting council finances to the bone.

“That will annoy the more low-paid local government workers who’ve missed out on pay rises over the years.

“And it will provoke council taxpayers who’ve seen rises in council tax and reductions in the level of services.

“If SNP tax rises are being used to line the pockets of council bosses, that will not be tolerated by voters in Scotland.”

The biggest rise in Scotland was in Fife, where there was an increase of 57 in the number of staff on lucrative £50,000-plus deals last year. The Kingdom also saw two more staff on a package topping £80,000, with one more in the £100,000 bracket.

Sharon McKenzie, Head of Human Resources in Fife, said the increase in numbers includes 47 employees who left during the year.

“They appear as a result of their redundancy or early retirement costs,” she said.

It is not clear what the equivalent number was for staff leaving in 2016/17.

The rise in Aberdeen of 48 staff in the £50,000 remuneration band or above was put down to a significant rise in severance deals agreed with departing staff in 2017/18, as well as pension strain costs, which contribute to overall remuneration.

“A large proportion of staff are included in the salary brackets highlighted due to one-off voluntary severance and early retirement packages for the year in question as part of an agreed reduction in posts within the council,” a spokeswoman said.

In Glasgow, the number of people making more than £50,000 was up from 657 to 683, while there are now 44 staff on £80,000 or more in Scotland’s biggest city, a rise of four. There were also 11 bosses on deals worth more than £100,000, although this is unchanged from the previous year.

West Dunbartonshire saw a hike of 32 on staff in the £50,000 bracket to 140, but a council spokeswoman said this was not just in relation to annual salaries.

She added that in 2017/18, just seven additional members of staff had annual salaries which placed them in this category.

“The remaining number were brought above the threshold due to an 
unusually high number of pay cycles in the tax year, which meant they were paid more than their recorded annual salary.”

In Renfrewshire it was up by 34 to 251, but a council spokesman insisted this was down to a “mix of factors”.

He added: “The bulk of the increase referred to is in the £50,000 to £54,999 banding. In most cases this was down to existing staff moving into that banding either by natural progression through incremental pay grades, or through national pay awards.”

However, many councils also saw a dramatic decline of staff on lucrative remuneration deals with North Lanarkshire seeing the number of staff on £50,000 or more fall by 69, while in Highland the number was down by 25.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Local authorities are responsible for deciding how much to pay their staff.

“However, we would expect all councils to make decisions that meet their responsibility to secure value for money.”

Recently there has been increasing pressure on councils finances. Scottish Government revenue funding to local authorities fell by £220 million in real terms in 2017/18, a report for the Accounts Commission found last year.

Council tax increases and rises in fees and charges were used by councils to extend overall budgets by £0.3 billion.

Councils also face another £230m of cuts to their “revenue” as a result of the 2019/20 Scottish budget, despite an extra £90m being found in a deal struck by the SNP Government and the Greens.

The number of Scots using leisure services, swimming pools, libraries and museums fell for the first time last year, after a decade of steady price rises.

Council leaders in Scotland have previously warned that funding reductions are likely to be met by cuts to services. Social work care, affordable housing and efforts to tackle homelessness are among areas under pressure. Facilities such as libraries, leisure centres and museums are also vulnerable.