Edinburgh Council chief earns £40k bonus for voting roles

Andrew Kerr. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Andrew Kerr. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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CITY council chief executive Andrew Kerr is set to be paid an extra £40,000 on top of his six-figure salary for his role in overseeing last month’s Holyrood elections and the EU referendum in a couple of weeks.

But he may not get similar bonuses in future if councillors have their way.

A motion calling for a review of the “outdated” arrangements, part of a UK-wide scheme, was backed unanimously at a full meeting of the city council.

Mr Kerr is paid £165,000 a year as chief executive, but he receives an additional payment for being returning officer each time there is an election or referendum.

He is due £25,000 for being in charge of the Scottish Parliament election on May 5 and £15,000 for the June 23 European Union vote.

But now there is pressure for the duties of returning officer to become part of the regular responsibilities of all council chief executives, with no separate payments.

Tory councillor Dominic Heslop proposed that the council should endorse the idea and press for a review – and his motion was agreed without opposition or debate.

He said he was not singling out individual chief executives. “However the public will find it very difficult to understand why people who are already paid handsome salaries should be topped up for what should be part of their job,” he said.

“I do not diminish the crucial role played by returning officers in overseeing elections, but in the past we have seen incidents of ballot boxes going missing or ballot papers later found, and then in 2007 the counting machines crashing. In these circumstances I am sure some chief executives did not accept extra payments as they would ultimately have to take responsibility for mistakes being made.

“But I also don’t buy into the idea that chief executives should be allowed to play Lady Bountiful and seek to impress the public by handing over these payments to charity. They shouldn’t be paid out in the first place. And who decides which charities should benefit?”

Cllr Heslop said he acted as returning officer for elections to Juniper Green community council. But he added: “I wouldn’t expect a cup of tea, never mind extra pay for fulfilling that job.”

Willie Sullivan, director of the Electoral Reform Society Scotland, said the running of elections should be “added to the job descriptions of local authority chief executives as an integral part of their role”.

Cllr Heslop’s motion asked council leader Andrew Burns to write to the Cabinet Office and other appropriate bodies, adding Edinburgh’s voice to calls for a review.

Cllr Burns said: “We agree the system is outdated. We’re happy to put our weight behind the calls for a review to take place as soon as possible.”

The Cabinet Office said: “Returning officers have traditionally been paid an extra fee because their role is statutorily independent from their normal employment and delivering properly conducted elections is a considerable responsibility.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com