Thursday, January 27, 2011

Salmond's smoke & mirrors on high pay proved wrong by figures

Alex Salmond was at his smuggest at First Minister's Questions today.

He rightly anticipated that Scottish Liberal Democrat leader was going to ask about high pay in the public sector, as this is something that we are very concerned about. After our intrepid researchers had discovered that we were paying out almost £53 million more to people earning more than £100,000 than we were last year, despite John Swinney's promises to tackle it, Tavish tackled Salmond about it last week, asking:
A year ago, the First Minister told me that high pay had already been dealt with. We asked the same 160 public sector organisations how much they are spending to pay staff more than £100,000 per year. They told us that last year they spent £281 million and this year they are spending £334 million, so spending on high pay has gone up by £53 million in one year. I am puzzled because, although the SNP Government’s pay policy promised punitive action on high pay, spending is rising quickly. Does the First Minister still believe, as he has just said, that those who have the broadest shoulders should carry the biggest burden?
Salmond thought he could explain it all away by making out in the most sarcastic terms that Tavish  hadn't realised that it was all down to consultants on the highest pay bands going up from £98k to over £100k, and that explained everything.

What? The entire extra £53 million?

Trouble is the figures don't quite reflect that. You would think, wouldn't you, that if Salmond was right, then it would follow that the pay bill for those paid £80-100k would have shrunk by the amount of those lucky 6-figure consultants' salaries?  Not so. I've had a look at the figures. In fact, the number of people being paid £80-100k has gone up, by 70, at a cost of an additional £4.7 million over last year's total. In fact the total in that pay band is £170.8 million.

What we know is that 305 more people, at an additional cost of over £57 million, are earning over £80,000 compared to last year. That doesn't sound like tackling high pay in the public sector to me. As Jeremy Purvis said yesterday:
We find it difficult to accept that, at a time when NHS workers who earn less than £21,000 will get an increase of just £250 and people who are on £21,000 or above will have a freeze in their pay, consultants, who are among the top-paid people in the NHS, will still be able to nominate themselves for a £70,000 annual bonus. We do not think that that is fair or appropriate. We heard the cabinet secretary mention those who have the broadest shoulders. I think that people who earn over £100,000 have broad shoulders. I do not think that it is right that, in the past year, when the Government has claimed that it has put punitive measures in place, that pay bill has gone up by £53 million. That is not fair, and it is not those with the broadest shoulders who are taking the most responsibility

The actual question Tavish was asking today was not to do with high standard pay, but with bonuses, which reveal some very worrying trends.

He asked:

These bonuses were signed off by his Government. They are the First Minister’s bonuses. It was his policy which promised “punitive action” on high pay. So why have bonuses gone UP at Scottish Water,
at Scottish Enterprise and at the Scottish Prison Service by 50 per cent?
Bonuses are up to £48million in the public sector. High pay is up fifty million pounds. So will the First Minister tell us what has been cut to pay for his bonuses and high pay? 

Salmond thought he was going out there today with a suit of armour to fend off whatever Tavish would say to him. He was left wearing a fig leaf and an embarrassed smirk.

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