Council chiefs who shattered spirit of pay deal

NEW figures reveal senior officials at Scottish Borders Council pocketed substantial pay rises while hundreds of lower-ranking staff were forced to accept a pay freeze.

There was anger after Scottish Borders Council (SBC) posted a copy of its unaudited accounts for 2010-11 on its website at the end of last week.

The accounts show the number of SBC officials paid more than £50,000 rose by 10 per cent from 97 in 2009-10 to 107 in 2010-11.

In the same period, the number of officers earning more than £100,000 increased from two to six – a 300 per cent increase, while the total remuneration for the 15 senior councillors came to £391,128 – up from £375,446 in 2009/10.

Among senior staff, out-going chief executive David Hume trousered a total, including allowances, of £123,008, up from £119,531, though the figure included £3,500 fee as returning officer.

Tracey Logan, director of resources, received £101,039 (£96,470 in 2010-11); Glenn Rodger, education £101,393 (£99,077); Iain Lindley, planning £91,105 (£89,040); Andrew Lowe, social work £101,393 (£99,108) and Ian Wilkie, legal services £71,936 (£70,183).

Pension lump sums and annual pensions earned by senior officers show Mr Hume will leave with a pension lump sum of £135,000 plus an annual pension of £49,000.

The figures are revealed four months after the GMB, Unison and Unite unions agreed a three-year pay freeze, saving Scottish Borders Council almost £5million, in return for a promise of no compulsory redundancies for members.

The settlement also brought 626 low-paid, mainly female staff, then earning as little as £6.41 per hour, on to the so-called Scottish Borders living wage of £7.15.

In March, Alec Nicol, SBC’s depute leader with special responsibility for personnel, said he was “tickled pink” with the union ballot results, saying they proved council staff appreciated the local authority was in difficult financial circumstances.

“The mandate we have been given says a lot about the loyalty and commitment of our employees, and we are repaying them by giving assurances there will be no compulsory job losses over the period of the deal,” said Councillor Nicol at the time.

Under the deal, SBC’s 5,000 non-teaching staff saw their contractual right to incremental increases, normally awarded as they move up pay-scales, suspended. This applies to all workers earning more than £21,000 a year. Those on less will be entitled to incremental progression in 2011-12, but, like their higher paid colleagues, will face a freeze in the following two years.

But Unite regional industrial organiser, Ian McDonald, told TheSouthern it was a strange way for council bosses to demonstrate loyalty to their staff.

“Most employees in Scottish Borders Council had a pay rise of 0.65 per cent in 2010, zero in 2011 and will get zero in 2012, which, with current and projected rates of inflation, is effectively a pay cut,” he said. “Yet 107 already highly paid officers get substantial increases in pay. It’s an intriguing and highly unfair way of sharing the pain.”

Council leader David Parker said the difference in pay awards to staff in 2010-11 was due to the different national negotiations that took place. “Teachers and chief officers received a high rate of pay increase because they were in the final year of a three-year deal,” he said.

“ A similar pay increase and three-year deal had been offered to all other staff but the unions representing them rejected that offer and chose to go for one-year agreements instead, which ultimately led to them receiving a worse deal than the one that they had been offered and rejected three years previously.”

Speaking this week, Councillor Nicol added: “As part of the deal signed with trade unions in March, we ensured over 2,000 staff – mostly women – earning less than £21,000 per year were entitled to their normal incremental progression in 2011-12.

“Also, over 600 employees – again mainly female staff – are benefiting from the establishment of a ‘living wage’ of £7.15. Both of these steps more adequately reward hard work and effort in a progressive and fair way.”

However, the explanations failed to impress Borders Party leader, Nicholas Watson. “Many things have been negotiated in the past, but that does not rule out re-negotiation, and clearly COSLA [the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities], as well as national and local governments, have a role here,” he said.

And he added: “Renegotiating for the last year might be unusual, but there is certainly a lesson to be learnt for future negotiations, and for when new staff are taken on.”

Councillor Watson added that the figures show what he called a “worrying lack of focus” that he believes exists at a senior level in the local authority when it comes to delivering value for money.

“At a time of national crisis, when the economy has shrunk by 6 per cent, and workers throughout the Borders are losing their jobs or taking pay cuts, the council needs to concentrate on cutting unnecessary costs, not awarding pay rises to well-heeled executives,” he continued.

“There seems to be, at the highest level, a lack of understanding of the plight that we’re in. When the private sector is experiencing severe difficulties, when numbers of headteachers are going down, and hardworking council employees are seeing their pay frozen or cut, it seems bizarre that senior council officials should be being awarded pay rises.

“How do you explain that to Borderers who have paid thousands of pounds in council tax since the recession started? To maintain employment in exceptionally difficult times we have to be realistic about what salaries can be afforded, and this should apply from top to bottom.”

His Borders Party colleague, Sandy Aitchison, said the way SBC works in terms of its budget and value for money, had to now be reassessed.

“The Borders Party is conducting a review of council operations to ensure that council taxpayers get the best service at the best value, while council employees are rewarded properly for the hard work they do,” he said.

Accusing Councillor Parker of arrogance over the issue, Hawick councillor David Paterson says he told the local authority’s leader that a loaf of bread costs as the same for an ordinary employee as it does for a chief officer.

He added: “I have already had hard-pressed council tax payers asking about the massive pay outs that some employees are getting at Scottish Borders Council. I also have many constituents on the national minimum wage that will be less than delighted at this.”