Edinburgh Trams: Boss faces mounting pressure for answers over top-up payments
The Managing Director of Edinburgh Trams is facing mounting pressure over his latest pay deal, as politicians back Union claims explanation for top-up payments “doesn’t wash.”
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It comes after Unite the Union accused the arms-length company of ‘burying a bonus’ for boss Lea Harrison who pocketed a total pay of £166,560 in 2020, including a salary of £150,523 and an additional £16,037 in ‘other benefits’.
The pay rise of £34,000 from the previous year’s basic salary and top-up payment revealed by the Evening News has prompted a backlash.
Mr Harrison was paid a bonus of £48,895 in 2019 - the highest for a local authority employee in the UK.
Edinburgh Trams denied that any bonuses were paid and claimed the £16,000 was the correction of an administrative error.
But Unite has hit back at the claims and backed by politicians the union has repeated calls for a breakdown of the figures for the past two years.
According to the council’s latest unaudited accounts for 2020/2021 Mr Harrison pocketed £18,000 more than previously declared for last year, on top of his controversial £48k bonus – a total pay of £198,920 not the £180,000 previously stated in financial records. In comparison, Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes homes £198,661, including his parliamentary salary of £65,738, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is paid £151,721 a year.
Meanwhile, a planned 2.5 per cent pay increase for tram workers was deferred again in April for the second year. Tram bosses cited a massive drop in demand for services due to the pandemic toll on passenger numbers and finances for the delay. During the height of lockdown some of the lowest paid Edinburgh Trams employees were furloughed.
Conservative Lothian MSP Miles Briggs has urged Edinburgh City Council to call financial watchdogs in to review the payments, warning that any ‘underhand’ payments would be a ‘huge scandal’.
Lyn Turner, Unite organiser said: “Our workers are shocked and angry. This year we agreed to defer a small pay increase again. Lo and behold we find out that last year while our workers were taking a cut or on furlough Mr Harrison got another £18k in same year as he got a hefty bonus. So that’s effectively a ten per cent increase for him.
"And now this year we see the £16k ‘other benefit’s explained away as an administrative error. It simply doesn’t wash. Where is the board in all this? We need to see some real accountability. They must provide a full breakdown of these figures. It can’t be swept under the carpet. Our workers deserve to know what went wrong, why did these accounts have to be restated?”
Mr Turner issued fresh plea for reform with arm’s-length external organisations such as Edinburgh Trams, so that councils can have more influence on decisions made by their boards on issues such as pay awards.
Councillor Andrew Johnston, conservative finance spokesman added: “If taxpayers are to have any confidence in the council and it's Arms Length Organisations, then transparency is vitally important. Marketing Edinburgh has again been fined for failing to lodge Company Accounts on time two years running and now we have questions over Trams for Edinburgh. Any Executive pay increases must be clearly explained and justified, especially since millions have only been paid 80 per cent of their normal wage in the last 12 months whilst on furlough.”
A spokesperson for Edinburgh Trams said: "As documented in our audited annual accounts, the Managing Director's renumeration in 2019 has been restated, due to a double counting error which resulted in an understatement. The prior year's figures have been restated to correct this issue."Our accounts demonstrate that no bonuses were paid to the Executive Team and show an overall reduction in their renumeration for 2020, which reflected the financial position of the organisation. Additionally, in Edinburgh Trams’ accounts, salaries are inclusive of ‘other benefits' which are shown separately in the City of Edinburgh Council's 2020/2021 unaudited annual accounts."