John McLellan: If you think council officials are over-paid, this is who to blame

Lovely jubbly! Loadamoneee..! Or is it snouts in the trough..? Reaction to the impressive salaries earned by senior Edinburgh Council directors and published in this week’s Evening News relies on your outlook but who would turn down a six figure salary?

Not his fault: Edinburgh City Council chief executive Andrew Kerr enjoys an annual pay package worth £203k (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
Not his fault: Edinburgh City Council chief executive Andrew Kerr enjoys an annual pay package worth £203k (Picture: Ian Georgeson)

So let’s be generous, forget all the unhelpful talk about what the First Minister earns and crack open the Bollinger for chief executive Andrew Kerr and his £203,000 package to wash down the lobster thermidor provided from the £150,000 earned by both director of place, Paul Lawrence, and communities and families boss Alistair Gaw.

In fairness, it’s easy to have a pop at these top earners when Scottish Government figures show the average gross salary of their 14,000 employees is £32,650 (average private sector earnings are £27,800) while managers and senior officers earn £40,150.

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The chiefs are responsible for ensuring the efficient running of an organisation with a £950m budget at the same time as waiting for their marching orders from councillors who are often amateurs whose main qualifications are political campaigning and opinions. I might know a bit about running a news publishing business but a social work department not so much. Ultimately, much depends on common sense.

But that’s democracy. While other organisations have non-executives and shareholders, none have quite the same level of what is fashionably known as “engagement” as public authorities. There are, however, compensations; the money apart it’s the amateurs, not the professionals, who have to explain what the hell is going on, and in the court of public opinion it’s the politicians who get it in the neck first when things go wrong.

Officers also have the protection of the Standards Commission which largely prevents councillors from criticising officers directly through a Code of Conduct which as far as I can see puts officers’ rights as employees ahead of councillors’ duty to scrutinise openly. While politicians pillory the likes of Scotrail’s chief Alex Hynes for poor performance, senior council officials don’t get anything like the same level of criticism.

The court of public opinion being fickle, some of those who might condemn six-figure salaries for public service chiefs might also be found shouting “Sack the Board” outside the grounds of loss-making football clubs for failing to bring in players on astronomical salaries who they think could win the league. But at least in professional sport, there is no hiding place from poor performance and a run of losses means the chop for the boss. “It’s a results-based business, Gary ...”

The problem in local government is senior management performance is not always easy to measure, especially when the biggest target is cost reduction. From experience, I know it’s harder to demonstrate effectiveness when money is no object. The other big public earners in Edinburgh have clear goals, like Lothian Buses MD Richard Hall who will have earned his £165k salary (a £46k performance bonus and £16k pension contribution took his package up to £227,700 last year) if he manages to meet the council’s demand for an extra £20m tram tribute over the next three years on top of the annual £6m dividend the authority expects.

Hall operates in a competitive market; ScotRail’s Hynes earns around £275,000 while at the end of last year 63 Transport for London employees reportedly took home more than £200k. TfL Commissioner Mike Brown received £374,959 compared to Transport for Edinburgh head George Lowder’s £141,000.

The bosses of arms-length operations like John Donnelly at Marketing Edinburgh on £139,200 and Marshall Dallas of Edinburgh International Conference Centre on £139,138 are bench-marked against industry norms, not local authority pay-scales, and have very clear performance targets.

People get paid what employers can afford, are prepared to pay and what the market dictates, which ultimately brings it back round to those who set the policy and the performance targets. In other words, the politicians. So if you think Edinburgh’s chief officers get paid too much, blame the councillors.

Why James Connolly shouldn’t have a statue in Edinburgh

Historian Tom Divine is calling for a monument to be erected in the city to James Connolly, the Edinburgh-born leader of the 1916 Dublin Easter Rebellion, who is venerated in Ireland and already has a plaque near his birthplace in the Cowgate. Forget the sectarian arguments, it would be quite something to put up a statue to a man who deliberately assisted the German war effort at a time when thousands of Scots – and Irishmen – were dying in the trenches. The plaque is enough.

Vote SNP for £1m a week in cuts

Unless you live in Leith Walk you’ll be forgiven for not realising there is a council by-election today. It’s for the council seat vacated Labour’s Marion Donaldson who resigned as tension mounted over the depth of the SNP’s cuts to the city’s budget that she as deputy finance convener was expected to help implement.

Just in case anyone was tempted to think the crisis was over because Scottish Government Finance Secretary Derek Mackay slightly lifted his boot from Edinburgh’s throat, the council’s head of strategy and communications, Lawrence Rockey, published a very helpful newsletter this week which pointed out that in real terms the authority actually needs to save £1m a week this year.

So for those of you in Leith Walk who still have to vote today, if you are worried about conditions in your local school, the state of your road, the efficiency of your bin collection, or the care an elderly relative is receiving, if you are tempted to put your cross next to SNP, remember that’s the party which has just taken £1m away from local services this week. And next week. And the week after that.

I’m Jeremy Corbyn?

A bizarre Lib Dem by-election leaflet claimed they were the most effective opposition to the SNP-Labour administration and even printed a handy graph which showed they supported the coalition in 49 per cent of votes, in other words they back the administration half the time. If that’s effective opposition then I’m Jeremy Corbyn.

Leith Street set for another closure

Pesky chaps, engineers. Just when you think everything is going swimmingly up they pop to tell you all is not well ... ooosh ... need to support this, excavate that, reinforce this, redesign the other ... Hard to predict these things, you don’t know what you’re going to find until you find it, etc, etc.

And so it is with unforeseen engineering work at Picardy Place which will shut Leith Street for three weeks in May, just eight months after it reopened following a year-long closure for the St James Centre construction.

This could mean reinstating all the diversions round the temporary one-way system down London Road to keep city centre traffic flowing.

Perish the thought unforeseen problems might cause delay and extra cost when the whole of Leith Walk and Constitution Street are dug up for the tram route to Newhaven. Sure, it’ll be fine.

A 400-year first goes unrecorded

A little bit of history has just taken place with the election of Jaqueline Easson to the venerable post of Moderator of the Society of High Constables of Edinburgh, the first woman to hold the office since its foundation in 1611. The Constables were formed as Edinburgh’s first police force and the tradition is carried on today through the members providing official bodyguards for the Lord Provost at ceremonial events. So the least the Lord Provost could do to mark the occasion is have the Society’s honours board in the Dean of Guild Room updated. It’s stuck on 2012.