Edinburgh trams boss pockets a £32k pay rise amid claims of a 'buried bonus'

A union chief is calling on the managing director of Edinburgh trams to ‘come clean’ after figures show a £32,000 salary hike including additional payment of £16k amid claims of a ‘buried bonus’.

Tuesday, 29th June 2021, 5:27 pm

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Lea Harrison took home total pay of £166,560 in period January to December 2020, a hike of more than £32,000 from his basic salary the previous year.

In 2020/2021 he was paid a salary of £150,523 and an additional £16,037 in ‘other benefits’ according to accounts seen by the Evening News which show the executive team’s remuneration packages for tax year ending March 2021.

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Lea Harrison urged to 'come clean' over £16k 'other benefits'

A planned pay increase for tram workers in April last year, agreed two months prior, was deferred as the Covid pandemic took its toll on passenger numbers and finances and lockdown saw a vast reduction in demand for services. During the height of lockdown some of the lowest paid Edinburgh Trams employees were furloughed.

Edinburgh trams claim the £16,000 is the correction of ‘an administrative error’, but Unite – which represents about 185 Edinburgh Trams workers - has demanded a breakdown of the cash and claimed it’s a way to conceal a bonus payment.

It also emerged Mr Harrison pocketed £18,000 more than previously declared for 2019/20, making his total remuneration £198,920 not the £180,000 previously stated in financial records.

The payments have sparked fresh outrage after he was paid a bonus of £48,895 for the period of January to December 2019 - the highest for a local authority employee in the UK.

Official report confirms Mr Harrison's 'restated' pay package

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.

Conservative Lothian MSP Miles Briggs urged Edinburgh City Council to call financial watchdogs in to review the payments, warning that any ‘underhand’ payments would be a ‘huge scandal’.

Another three bosses at council subsidiaries received payments under ‘other benefits’ including £2120 paid to Nigel Serafini of Lothian Buses, according to Edinburgh City Council’s unaudited annual accounts for 2020/2021.

After the Evening News raised questions about payments to Mr Harrison with the council, the 2020/2021 unaudited accounts disappeared from the dedicated section on the website.

It comes as the tram extension project was hit with a major setback, as accounts revealed a £12m funding gap caused by falling public transport use.

Demanding answers from Edinburgh Trams, Mr Lyn Turner, Unite Industrial Officer said: “They need to come clean. Based on the figures I’ve seen, Mr Harrison received £16k other benefits, the highest of transport bosses in the city. We believe this could be a bonus. And on top of another £18k extra now showing up from last year. It doesn’t quite add up.

"This flies in the face of decency. Our members have had a 20 per cent pay cut and we’ve had major issues with how furlough pay is calculated for holidays only for the boss to get a top-up. They need a reality check.”

Both Transport for Edinburgh and Edinburgh Trams are owned by Edinburgh City Council.

When the Evening News first revealed details of Mr Harrison’s remuneration in April, Mr Turner said: “The fact that the boss of Edinburgh Trams has received a bonus equivalent to nearly 40 percent of his salary should make Lea Harrison squirm in his managing director’s chair.

“He should do the right thing and show some solidarity with the workforce by handing this bonus back but I doubt he has any sense of shame.”

Mr Briggs said: “Councillors haven't been pleased with the auditing of trams in recent years. Now there are growing concerns and a need for these payments to be clarified given the history we've seen relating to their accounts. What's important is that we have full transparency.

"The council should request Audit Scotland to come in and do a full audit and review these payments. That would provide independent investigation and assurances over these sums of money.""After last year's controversial bonus payment the council will surely want to make these accounts easily available to the public. They need to open up the books and if there has been any underhand accounting then that will be a huge scandal."

Commenting on the latest salary figures, a spokesperson for Edinburgh Trams said: "In 2020, due to the challenges of the pandemic, no bonuses were awarded to the Executive Team.

"However, in line with Edinburgh Trams Limited’s new responsibilities as a Maintainer, as well as an Operator of the city's tramway, the Managing Director did receive a salary increase in line with previously agreed contractual obligations.

"Payments shown under ‘other benefits’ were documented this way to correct an administrative error and restated in the company’s most recent audited annual accounts, in line with standard accounting practices.”

A council spokesperson said: “The terms of the remuneration for the senior managers within Edinburgh Trams are a matter for its Board to agree, however there were no bonus payments in 2020. This follows strong representations from us to the board to refrain from paying bonuses, especially during the current difficult financial climate where some employees were on furlough and many others in sectors across the City lost their jobs, and we continue to stress this.”

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