Taxpayers stump up £12m for public sector workers' bonuses

More than £12 million has been paid out in bonuses to bosses and staff in public bodies across Scotland in recent years, it has emerged.

Scottish Water paid thousands of pounds in bonuses. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Scottish Water paid thousands of pounds in bonuses. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Prison chiefs, council workers, NHS staff and public utility bosses and have enjoyed payouts – with a top bonus of £92,000 at a time of swingeing austerity cuts across Scotland’s public sector.

And the payouts are on the rise, according the figures obtained through Freedom of Information.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

They come despite official Scottish Government policy advice stating that such payouts should not be made, although ministers cannot dictate pay policy to taxpayer-funded bodies.

About £6.1 million was paid out in each of the past two years in bonuses and performance-related pay by dozens of organisations, Publicly-owned Scottish Water led the way, paying out about £4.7m a year.

Opposition parties at Holyrood are now calling for action from the SNP Government to address the situation which comes two years after Deputy First Minister John Swinney called for an end to the payments.

Tory finance spokesman Murdo Fraser said: “Despite promising to crack down on this two years ago, it seems as if the SNP have done little to curb the number of bonuses being paid out in the public sector.

“At a time when public sector bodies are facing increasing budgetary pressures, many people will be amazed to see that so much money is being spent on bonuses.”

The organisations making the payments also include theatres companies, leisure quangos, schools and courts. The payments made vary from as little as £50 to many four and five-figure payments.

The publicly-owned water giant Scottish Water paid out £4.7m in each of the past two years. The highest payment made was made to chief executive Douglas Millican in 2014 on top of his salary of £237,000 that year. This bonuses level fell to £82,000 the following year. Other Scottish Water directors also enjoyed bumper payments in 2015 with executive director Geoff Aitkenhead receiving £59,000, Peter Farrer, the chief operating officer, getting £59,000 and finance director Alan Scott also awarded £59,000.

The firm says although it is a public corporation, its performance is measured against the “best performing privatised water companies” south of the Border.

“Scottish Water is a high performance-driven organisation which is set extremely challenging targets in a range of areas by our regulators to deliver high standards and excellent service for the benefit of customers,” a spokesman for the firm said.

In total, £6.157m was paid out in 2015/16, the figures show. This up slightly from £6.134m the previous year.

Universities and colleges have also paid out millions of pounds in bonuses to staff, despite the bulk of their funding coming from the public purse, although they are “autonomous” bodies partially funded by fees.

The top payments were at Napier University in Edinburgh where a payment of £14,535 was made to one staff member, while £12,322 was paid by Glasgow Caledonian University. Strathclyde University made a payment of £9,000 the figures show.

Labour’s Jackie Baillie said: “SNP ministers in Edinburgh appear to have done nothing to stop millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money going to pay bonuses, in most cases to the highest paid staff.

“We need a full explanation from the SNP government about what action they have taken on this – at a time when our public services are under so much pressure.”

The Scottish Government introduced a pay policy several years ago, which applies to government staff and workers in some other public bodies, which stipulated that any “non-consolidated performance related pay” should be suspended.

Liberal Democrat Edinburgh Western MSP Alex Cole Hamilton said ministers must step up efforts to address the current situation.

“People will find it hard to understand how most salaries have been capped at a 1 per cent increase yet the government still splashes thousands on a select few,” he said. “The SNP government promised to end these bonuses yet we are still seeing them awarded. ”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said last night: “Unlike the UK government, where we directly control pay we have continued the suspension of bonuses and have done so for the last five years. The annual pay awards to chief executives is in line with the SG Public Sector Pay Policy and with other employees within their respective organisations.”



Scottish Water 4,680,058 82,249

Glasgow Caley Uni 379,098 12,322

Glasgow Uni 298,866 3,035

Audit Scotland 146,450 3,666

Heriot Watt Uni 138,000

Strathclyde Uni 105,998 9,000

West of Scotland Uni 62,195 6,618

Courts and tribunals 60,085 50

Kilmarnock Prison* 57,807 28,009

Robert Gordon Uni 42,716 9,888

Organisation (14/15) total paid top bonus

Scottish Water 4,703,369 91,840

Glasgow caley Uni 464,835 18,000

Glasgow Uni 238,316 2,154

Heriot Watt Uni 181,000 20,000

Audit Scotland 152,049 1,988

Strathclyde Uni 56,451 7,500

Registers of Scotland 55,003 16,958

Courts and tribunals 41,695 50

West of Scotland Uni 40,611 6,552

Robert Gordon Uni 40,227 11,241

* Kilmarnock Prison is privately-run (by Serco) on behalf of the Scottish Government.