Quango executive pocketed £56,000 of taxpayers’ cash to move from Paris

A SENIOR executive at Scottish Enterprise received more than £56,000 from the public purse to relocate from Paris to Scotland after she was promoted by the quango.

The taxpayers’ cash was to help Anne MacColl and her family move back to Scotland after working for Scottish Enterprise overseas when she was appointed chief executive of Scottish Development International, the arm of the public body that builds overseas trade.

Last night opposition politicians criticised the “extraordinary” payment, which came to light with the publication of Scottish Enterprise’s annual accounts yesterday.

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The £56,039 picked up by Ms MacColl was in addition to a £2,385 accommodation allowance and £13,609 paid by Scottish Enterprise to settle a tax bill when her earnings became liable in the UK as well as France.

The money was used for travel, subsistence, temporary accommodation and legal fees associated with the move that saw Ms MacColl, her husband and two children, move to Scotland.

The accounts also showed that Scottish Enterprise paid out £3.36 million in severance pay to 20 staff who took voluntary redundancy. The quango has been criticised in the past for the “fat-cat” salaries paid to its most senior public servants and yesterday’s accounts showed that the Scottish Enterprise chief executive, Lena Wilson, took home £200,000 in the year ending 31 March 2011. Paul Lewis, managing director of sectors and commercialisation, was paid a salary of £127,000.

In line with the Scottish Government’s call for a pay freeze for high-earning public servants, only executives who were promoted received a pay rise. Bonuses paid to executive board members, which amounted to £53,000 in the year ending March 2010, were cancelled for the most recent financial year.

Linda McDowall, the business networks and communications director, saw her salary rise from £95,000 to £112,000 in March last year, because she was promoted to the Executive Leadership Team. A similar promotion resulted in Julian Taylor, the director of strategy and economics, seeing his salary increase from £82,000 to £97,000.

But it was the extra money paid to Ms MacColl that most angered opposition politicians. It overshadowed news that the turnover of companies SE works with most closely had risen £790m in the year – double the growth achieved in the previous accounting period.

Labour finance spokesman Richard Baker said: “Scottish Enterprise should not just follow willy-nilly the excesses of the private sector. Instead of dishing out lavish relocation fees they should realise most people would be grateful to pay their own way to get such a job.

“They should also focus funding on job creation rather than over £3m in golden handshakes.”

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A Conservative spokesman said: “This seems an extraordinary sum of money. Scottish Enterprise needs to explain why the bill is so high.”

The controversy over relocation expenses is not the first time questions have been asked about the financial arrangements surrounding the post that Ms MacColl filled in January this year.

She was appointed after a year-long recruitment process that cost the taxpayer almost £22,000. The recruitment exercise began at the beginning of 2010 and involved the headhunting firm Hudson Global. The first batch of candidates was rejected and the job, which now carries a salary of £100,000, was re-advertised in August 2010.

That was when Ms MacColl moved from her post as SDI’s operations director for Europe to become acting SDI chief executive. The outcome of the recruitment process was that Ms MacColl was judged the best candidate for a job she was already doing.

A spokeswoman for Scottish Enterprise said: “Given the high profile and international nature of SDI, we always knew that we’d have to incur relocation costs for the successful candidate.”

The spokeswoman said the post’s salary had been reduced since Ms MacColl’s predecessor Ms Wilson had done the job, meaning relocation costs would be recouped within two years.

The current SE chief executive received a total of £176,000 when she combined the job with her role as the quango’s chief operating officer.

Scottish Enterprise defended its wage bill, pointing out that the number of employees at director level and above had been cut by 20. That had contributed to salaries for those at director level and above falling by almost £2m. On the redundancy payments, Scottish Enterprise said the “vast majority” of the sum related to payments into the quango’s pension scheme, not lump sums paid to individuals.