Ombudsman has knuckles rapped over appointments of her deputies

PROFESSOR Alice Brown, the public services ombudsman, has been censured by MSPs for appointing two deputies at salaries of up to £70,000 a year without Holyrood's approval.

Members of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) have taken the unprecedented step of rebuking the ombudsman for not following procedures laid down in law for appointments in her organisation.

The row between the SPCB - the organisation responsible for the budgets of Scotland's commissioners and the ombudsman - and Brown arose over her plan to replace three deputy ombudsmen with new posts.

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The move from having the ombudsman and three deputies, all formally appointed by the Crown, to the two positions that did not have the same status, was approved by Holyrood when Brown was reappointed for a second five-year term last year.

However, Brown pressed ahead with appointing a director of policy and development and director of investigations without coming back to the SPCB to agree the terms and conditions, including a salary range of between 56,736 to 70, 703.

According to the minutes of the SPCB, the matter came to a head in September when the body was asked formally to endorse the appointments.

Although some members of the SPCB were reluctant to agree the appointments, they were eventually endorsed, but not before the MSPs rebuked the ombudsman over her handling of the issue.

The minutes say that the SPCB expressed "concern at the process which had resulted in the terms and conditions being advertised before consultation with the SPCB, and at the level of starting salary which had been proposed".

They add: "The SPCB considered the process bad practice, particularly given the nature of the office and determined that the ombudsman be advised accordingly."

MSPs on the body also called on Brown to reconsider the proposed level of starting salaries within the agreed range.

A spokesman for the Scottish Parliament says the restructuring of the ombudsman's office had been approved by parliament.

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He says the parliament wants a "smooth transition" to the new structure of full time salaried staff in place of Crown appointees, and adds: "Under the legislation, the ombudsman is required to have any new terms and conditions approved by the SPCB. In this instance, this related to two new full time director posts and their salary scales.

"The SPCB was aware of the posts involved, however, it was not informed of the proposed salary levels until after these posts had been advertised and successful candidates identified.

"The approval of the SPCB should have been sought prior to these events."

A spokesman for the ombudsman says: "The proposal to introduce two new posts was discussed in advance with officials of the SPCB and no concerns were expressed about what was proposed.

"Subsequent to the SPCB's meeting on 12 September, there have been ongoing discussions with the SPCB to continue to develop clear and efficient shared processes."

The spokesman says that, after further discussion with the SPCB, Holyrood accepted the pay scales.

The job of director of investigations went to Eric Drake, formerly one of the deputy ombudsmen. David Robb, a former official at the Scottish Government, was appointed director of policy and development.