Dead Sheep and Equal Pay

Whatever else you can say about Audit Scotland, this particular public spending watchdog has been virtually irrelevant during the fight for equal pay in Scottish 32 local councils which has been raging since 2005 when A4ES appeared on the scene.

The Accounts Commission, on the other hand, did publish a damning report in September 2017 which concluded that a "decade long failure of leadership by local and central government" was responsible for the continuing debacle over equal pay in Scotland's councils.

More to follow soon because I will re-post the Accounts Commission report when I get a minute, hopefully later today.  


Dead Sheep and Equal Pay (28/02/17)

I said in a recent post that I had previously compared Scotland's public spending watchdog (Audit Scotland) to being savaged by a 'dead sheep'.

Well there have been plenty of spending scandals in Scotland's councils over the past 15 years, but I have not witnessed Audit Scotland laying a glove on any of the culprits involved.

If you ask me, the biggest scandals all is that council budgets in Scotland virtually doubled in the ten year period between 1997 and 2007, yet still the council employers failed to deliver equal pay for work of equal value.


More Dead Sheep? (20/03/14)

The state of Scottish local government is laid bare in this article from the BBC's web site which sounds to me like a dialogue of the deaf.

The public spending watchdog (Audit Scotland) warns that Scottish councils need to find new ways of saving money other than by simply cutting staff numbers, perhaps by working in collaboration with neighbouring councils to share services, for example.

In other words by eliminating the need for three different payroll services which would allow council resources to be redeployed elsewhere such as care of the elderly.

But we have been here before of course and the concept of shared services has failed miserably - virtually nothing has happened when the policy is left for individual councils to implement on a voluntary basis, as I've said in previous posts to the blog site.  

So we are left in the ridiculous position of Scotland's public spending watchdog politely telling councils to 'get their finger out' - while the President of COSLA (the self-styled 'voice' of Scottish local government says that Audit Scotland doesn't know what it is talking about. 
The question is what will Audit Scotland do next? Because if the public spending watchdog accepts this rude rebuff it really will prove my point about being savaged by a 'dead sheep'. 

Council staff cuts not sustainable, warns Audit Scotland

By Jamie McIvor

BBC Scotland local government correspondent
Councils are warned that an ageing population is just one factor which will reduce the scope for staff cuts

Councils must do more than simply cut staff to find savings, according to a report from the public spending watchdog.

Audit Scotland says councils still need to make substantial savings and will find it increasingly hard to find ways of balancing their books.

It argues cutting staff to save money is not sustainable long-term.

Local government organisation Cosla condemned the report as "bland".

Audit Scotland's report for the Accounts Commission on an overview of local government in 2014 said that so far, savings have been made mainly by cutting staff numbers - but this measure is not sustainable in the longer term.

The report said: "Councils, as with other parts of the public sector, have always faced difficult choices in allocating limited money, staff and other assets such as buildings across competing priorities.

"However, against a backdrop of savings and staff reductions to date, these decisions are increasingly difficult."

Council chambers

Scotland's 32 councils collectively spent almost £21bn in 2013.

The report also also highlighted the need for "strong political and managerial leadership".

The report identified "heightened tensions" in some council chambers which is "leading to strained working relationships".

Problems were identified at Argyll and Bute, Falkirk and Aberdeen.

The report argues such tensions threaten effective leadership, and the council's ability to do business effectively and achieve best value for services.

The number of staff working for councils has fell from a full time equivalent figure of 228,300 in 2009, to 204,500 in 2013. Very few staff have been made compulsorily redundant.

Staff costs run to at least £6 billion a year.

Radical change

Some sceptics have argued some proposals for radical change in local government in recent years have simply fizzled out.

For example, a scheme which would have seen councils in the west of Scotland work more closely together fizzled out as did a proposal to let a private company take over bin collections in Edinburgh.

But there are examples of change too. East Ayrshire and South Ayrshire councils are about to launch a single service to maintain their roads - the first time this has happened.

Accounts Commission chair Douglas Sinclair said: "Finances remain tight and councils anticipate further budget reductions. To date they have balanced budgets mainly by reducing staff numbers, but this alone is not sustainable in the longer term.

"Increasing numbers of older people, who typically need more public services - notably health and social care, as well as the public's rising expectations of service quality are among a range of factors contributing to increased demands on services.

"Councillors need to have an open mind on how they organise the services they provide. That means looking afresh at what people need, how it can be delivered and who can best deliver it."

'Obvious and bland'

He added: "The Commission has expressed its consistent view that it is unacceptable if political tensions become so extreme that they compromise a council's ability to ensure effective leadership, demonstrate good governance and, as a result, weaken the public's trust and confidence in the integrity of the council and its councillors to conduct public business."

Cosla President Councillor David O'Neill hit out at the report, saying it was stating the obvious and extremely bland.

Mr O'Neill said: "Two examples that really annoy me and fall into the category of stating the obvious. Firstly, that Councils need to look at innovative ways of saving money, we have been doing that for years and do we really need to be told that from them.

"Secondly, and the one that takes the biscuit is, that when times are tough and cuts have to be made Political coalitions in Councils become more difficult. I can also assure them that we do have an open mind as to how we organise services.

"I would also tell the Accounts Commission that Councils engagement with the public they are elected to serve has never been greater and I find it more than a little galling to be pulled up by them on this when they were one of the few public sector organisations who refused to come and give evidence to the Commission I chair on strengthening Local Democracy - which smacks to me of do as we say, not as we do."

More Dead Sheep (24 May 2013)

Here's an interesting report from BBC's web site about the huge costs of voluntary redundancy and early retirement in Scotland's public services.

The cost over the past two years is estimated at £550 million - an incredible 40% of which has been spent on just 1,200 staff which, according to my arithmetic, means that 1,200 people shared £220 million - or an average 'golden goodbye' payment of £183,333.33.

A very tidy sum of money on top of an already high salary of course and meanwhile the remaining 12,800 staff shared a balance of £310 million - which produces a much lower average payment of £24,218.75.

So from these figures you can see how 'final salary' calculations skew such payments towards the higher paid staff within the public services - when, in fact, a much fairer system would be to use 'career average earnings.

Which would mean that what people get out of the system is based on what they've paid in over their working careers - instead of some of them walking away with enormous and often 'tax free' public handouts.

Now that would seem much more sensible - yet the trade unions continue to support final salary schemes even though it means that lower paid staff continue to subsidise the pension pots of their managers and bosses.

How crazy is that?

And remember that even when Audit Scotland finds good reason to criticise the behaviour of some of these public bodies - including local councils - its criticisms are simply ignored.

As I've said before being attacked by Audit Scotland - in the words of Labour's Denis Healey - is like being savaged by a dead sheep. 

Call for 'value for money' Scottish public sector pay-offs 

The public sector workforce in Scotland has reduced by 40,000 since 2009

About 14,000 public sector employees have taken voluntary redundancy or early retirement in the past two years in Scotland at a cost of about £550m.

According to Audit Scotland, 40% of the pay-off fund was shared by just 1,200 high earners in the sector, including government, NHS, police and fire.

The spending watchdog said there was evidence that these early departure schemes had led to savings.

However, it called for greater scrutiny to ensure they offered value for money.

The report, Managing early departures from the Scottish public sector, said most bodies dealt with the system well, but there were major differences in the monitoring and transparency of costs.

The Scottish government said its policy of no compulsory redundancy and pay restraint was working.

Since 2009, 40,000 people left the sector, the report said.

Early departures accounted for about half, with the rest retiring due to age or ill health, or moving to other jobs.

'Paying the price'

In response to the report, Unison said job cuts were devastating local communities and should be reversed to help the economy grow.

The union's Scottish secretary, Mike Kirby, said: "While the Audit Scotland report makes some positive noises about the way public bodies manage workforce change, the reality is that our precious public services are paying the price of austerity economics."

Labour MSP Ken Macintosh claimed the government was spending 10-times as much "pushing" people out of work than it was on finding people jobs.

He said: "Earlier this year Labour uncovered the hundreds of millions that were being spent on public sector severance schemes including compulsory redundancies despite promises from the SNP that they would not be used here.

"Our research found that more than 1,200 people were forced out of their job at a cost of £7.5m. This report from Audit Scotland reveals that the picture is even worse."

Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said the efficiency savings were necessary, but he said it was vital that public sector pay-offs were not too generous.

He said: "Of course contracts have to be adhered to, but the public do wonder if these savings are being undermined by organisations throwing too much at golden goodbyes."

Silence whistleblowers

The figures for the years 2010/11 and 2011/12 came amid concerns that generous early release packages were being used to silence whistleblowers, reward executives and sweeten job offers.

The Audit Scotland report referred to high profile public sectors pay-offs, including a former chief executive of West Dunbartonshire Council, who was hired for five years but given a pension for nearly nine years' service.

It also raised concerns about retired staff returning to posts, and pointed to the case of Strathclyde Fire and Rescue chief fire officer Brian Sweeney.

The report flagged up moves by Dumfries and Galloway Council to place restrictions on the future recruitment of individuals who have accepted any form of early departure.

The spending watchdog said organisations should ensure that their packages did not cost more in the long run, did not deprive the organisation of vital staff, and did not unfairly deprive staff of their employment rights.

A Scottish government spokesman said voluntary exit schemes delivered significant savings with costs recouped within two years.

"As the Audit Scotland report highlights, many public bodies have decided to run voluntary exit schemes as one way of reducing costs - at a time when UK government has cut the Scottish budget by almost 9% in real terms over four years.

"Our policy of no compulsory redundancy and pay restraint, particularly for higher earners, means we can provide staff with employment security at an economically challenging time, while delivering the savings necessary to live within the tight financial settlement we have received from Westminster."

Savaged By Dead Sheep (5 May 2013)

I couldn't resist a word about South Lanarkshire Council - amidst all the recent stories about some of our civic organisations which are very free and cavalier at the way they spend public money.

A day of reckoning is coming for sure and the people responsible will have a lot to answer for - given the way that public funds have been doled out, on some occasions, as if money grows on trees.

But it's also fair to say that right at this moment no one is particularly fearful or wary of Scotland's public spending watchdog, Audit Scotland - whose criticisms, as far as far as I can see, amount to little more than a slap on the wrists.

So, I would get rid of Audit Scotland tomorrow because it's a weak and ineffectual body - and to borrow a phrase from Labour's Denis Healey, being attacked by Scotland's public spending watchdog - is a bit like being savaged by a dead sheep.

Gagging Clauses (15 March 2013)
In recent weeks there has been much comment about the NHS and the practice of senior officials being shown the door - often in controversial circumstances - but with hugely generous exit packages.

More often than not these publicly funded exit packages are accompanied by 'gagging clauses' - which effectively prevent people speaking out about the circumstances surrounding their departure - a practice that is the exact opposite of open and transparent government.

So I thought it would be useful to reproduce a previous post from the blog site on the departure of the former Finance Director - of South Lanarkshire Council.

I think it would be a great public service if senior officials in this situation - like Linda Hardie - came forward to tell their side of the story - because these 'gagging clauses' are offensive to common sense and have no place in any of our public services.

South Lanarkshire Council is up in the UK Supreme Court soon - over its refusal to disclose pay information ordered by the Scottish Information Commissioner - and the Court of Session, Scotland's highest civil court.

I'll have more to say on that subject in the next few days.

Mired in Scandal (6 August 2012)
Well done to the Daily Record for exposing another disgraceful chapter in the life of South Lanarkshire Council.

Here's a story which appeared in the paper last week - and shines a light on the controversial departure of the council's finance chief in April 2011.

To my mind spending £500,000 on a early retirement package for a senior council official - is an obscene waste of public money.

Yet the council fails to offer a proper explanation for its actions and simply brushes aside the criticisms of Scotland's public spending watchdog - Audit Scotland.

If you ask me it's high time the Scottish Government took a long hard look at what's going on inside South Lanarkshire Council - which looks increasingly arrogant and out of control.

Golden goodbye scandal: Council chief pocketed £500k severance package.. after receiving £63k garden leave pay

The Daily Record revealed yesterday the severance package had been paid to finance chief Linda Hardie by Labour-led South Lanarkshire Council.

The council who gave a £500,000 payoff to a boss who “retired” at 50 have been savaged by a financial watchdog for paying her another £63,000 to stay at home.

The Daily Record revealed yesterday the severance package had been paid to finance chief Linda Hardie by Labour-led South Lanarkshire Council.

Hardie’s department lost £100,000 of taxpayers’ money to a fraud scam and made £38million worth of “arithmetical errors” in budget cuts.

Now we can reveal the council have been criticised by the public spending watchdog for allowing Hardie to spend six months on her full £127,000-a-year salary before picking up her massive package.

A report for Audit Scotland says: “There is no documentary evidence to demonstrate value for money for the full pay provided from 18 October, 2010, to 18 April, 2011.”

The report also reveals that Hardie’s deal was approved only by her fellow paid officials, contrary to Audit Scotland’s guidelines, which say elected councillors should be involved in early retirement packages.

That has prompted questions about who exactly is running the council, who are fighting a costly legal battle against their own female staff over equal pay.

Local SNP MSP Christina McKelvie said: “Given that they are dragging their heels over equal pay claims, how could they justify using scarce resources to award such a staggering payoff?

Council leader Eddie McAvoy has some serious questions to answer. Why is it that decisions about early retirement appear to have been left to council management?

Did McAvoy have any knowledge of this golden goodbye and does he think it was appropriate or necessary? The buck stops with the administration, and they now must explain what steps they are taking to avoid such obscene payoffs in future.”

SNP ministers are also demanding answers from the council about the payoff – which saw Hardie receive £106,000 severance plus £427,000 paid into her pension.

McAvoy was abroad on holiday and could not be contacted for comment.

A council spokesman said: “The council followed early retirement approval procedures as detailed in standing orders. The retirement provision was in line with the contract of employment and with general employment law and pension regulations.”


It would take half a century for the average female worker fighting South Lanarkshire Council for equal pay to earn the £500,000 payoff handed to finance chief Linda Hardie.

Hardie took early retirement aged just 50 in April last year but the details of her package have only emerged now.

One dinner lady of 55, who is among those fighting for equal pay, earns £10,000 a year for a 30-hour week – but Hardie will get six times that in pension.

The woman, who did not want to be named, said: “When I saw what she was getting, it made me sick to the pit of my stomach.

"If I worked every day for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t earn the money she has walked away with.

The council have done everything they can to stop us getting a fair deal and just hand over cash like that to someone who made a hash of her job.”

The council are refusing to accept an employment tribunal’s ruling that they must offer the women, including cleaners and dinner ladies, equal pay.

The worker added: “All the money that is being used to fight us is also a waste of taxpayers’ cash because we are not giving up until we win.”

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