MSPs to review extra election payments for council chiefs

Chie executive Andrew Kerr got �40,000 extra for overseeing the counts at the Holyrood election and EU referendum
Chie executive Andrew Kerr got �40,000 extra for overseeing the counts at the Holyrood election and EU referendum
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EXTRA payments to council bosses for overseeing elections could be scrapped after MSPs decided to investigate.

City Council chief executive Andrew Kerr – who is paid a salary of £165,000 – received an additional £40,000 for acting as the Capital’s returning officer for the Holyrood elections in May and the EU referendum in June.

Across Scotland, payments for the two events totalled almost £500,000 between 32 voting chiefs.

But the Electoral Reform Society said the public would find the sums “quite remarkable” and even the society representing council chiefs said the system was “old fashioned”.

Now the Scottish Parliament’s local government committee is to examine payments to returning officers.

It will look at how the system works in practice and consider the “appropriateness” of the payments.

Returning officers are responsible for ensuring the smooth running of elections and referendums. The role is usually undertaken by council chief executives on top of their usual duties.

The MSPs will start their examination in November and are expected to take evidence from experts in electoral law, the Electoral Reform Society, trade unions and academics, as well as returning officers themselves.

SNP MSP Bob Doris, who is convener of the committee, said: “Understandably there is public concern around additional payments – reportedly worth £1 million in the last two years – being made to already well-paid office holders.

“The level of payment varies for different elections and different councils, and we’re also aware some returning officers claim their payment, while others share payments with their staff.

“We want to find out more about how these payments operate, what their uptake is and whether they remain appropriate.”

The issue of the extra payments was raised at a meeting of the city council earlier this year, which unanimously agreed a motion labelling the arrangement “outdated” and argued that running elections should be part of the job description for chief executives.

Following the meeting, council leader Andrew Burns wrote to the Cabinet Office urging the UK Government to conduct a review.

Conservative councillor Dominic Heslop, who tabled the motion, welcomed the decision by MSPs to look into the extra payments.

He said: “There is something obscene that while the council is having to make savings the chief executive, on a salary of £165,000, is then entitled to extra payments of thousands of pounds for the election and the referendum.

“These duties should automatically be part of the job.

“And I don’t buy into this idea that they can say, ‘I’m giving it to charity’. It should not be in their gift to decide where public money goes.

“This needs to end straight away and I’m pleased someone is finally getting a grip on a system which is unacceptable when ordinary people are hard pressed.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com