Opening up SBC’s shut case

Your report, “Council publishes details of former chief exec’s exit deal” (July 5) included statements from David Hume’s successor which claimed: “We have been as open and transparent as we can” and “It can all be taken at face value”.

Those claims have something of a hollow ring to them given that Scottish Borders Council’s Freedom of Information archive shows our local authority refused requests to reveal details of the eye-watering amounts of our money which had been handed over to departing members of staff during the 2011/2012 financial year.

I feel certain that but for changes in the rules governing local authority remuneration reports – councils must now divulge these previously well-guarded financial secrets – Borders council taxpayers would never have been told that more than £5million had been distributed to 203 “retiring” members of staff.

Indeed it has been suggested to me that a significant number of the councillors who were members of SBC prior to this May’s elections had no knowledge of these extremely generous packages until the council’s accounts were published on June 30.

The same apparent lack of elected member involvement applied when it was decided to deposit millions of pounds of other people’s money in the unstable Icelandic banks between 2006 and 2008. Where was the transparency and openness?

So which council committee signed off these exit deals, and did anyone attempt to challenge the scale of the severance packages? A number of other local authorities have managed to reduce staff numbers at less cost, suggesting the SBC programme is not particularly discriminatory.

According to the recently-published accounts, annual recurring savings from the £5.184million exit packages will total an impressive £3.693million with a pay-back period of 1.4 years. That remains to be seen.

However, none of those savings will accrue from Mr Hume’s departure as he has been replaced after receiving £103,000 as “compensation for loss of employment”.

And do the projected savings take into account SBC’s decision to seek and obtain the Scottish Government’s consent to borrow £1.7million to cover severance costs? So far, according to government figures, SBC has used £1.291million of that consent as well as the £1.021million it borrowed to make up the Icelandic bank losses. “Borrow your way out of trouble” seems to be the policy.

I would argue there has been a deliberate lack of openness and transparency on the part of the vast majority of local authorities over many decades. Yet if their plans and decisions hatched in private are sound and fair, then why do they have to be forced to eventually disclose so many matters of public interest?

Will openness and transparency triumph at SBC from now on? Watch this space!

Bill Chisholm

Honeyfield Road