MSPs to look at elec­tion pay­ments

Rutherglen Reformer - - News - Ni­cola Find­lay

MSPs will ex­am­ine the pay­ments re­ceived by re­turn­ing of­fi­cers in Scot­land.

It comes after fig­ures re­vealed South La­nark­shire Coun­cil’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, Lind­say Free­land, could have pock­eted up to £52,000 for run­ning four polls in three years – po­ten­tially the third high­est earner out of Scot­land’s 32 lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

This is on top of an an­nual salary of be­tween £149,000 and £156,000.

Only Glas­gow City Coun­cil’s chief exec, An­nemarie O’Donnell, and Fife’s Steven Grim­mond could have pock­eted more at £ 77,012 and £ 66,450 re­spec­tively.

The stag­ger­ing amounts paid to high-earn­ing coun­cil chiefs, who take on the role of re­turn­ing of­fi­cer dur­ing elec­tions, has led to calls for re­forms.

Ho l y r o o d ’ s lo­cal govern­ment com­mit­tee is now set to ex­am­ine how the pay­ments are made and how ap­pro­pri­ate they are.

MSPs will hear from elec­toral law ex­perts and lo­cal govern­ment of­fi­cials, trade unions and aca­demics as well as re­turn­ing of­fi­cers across two meet­ings next month.

Mr Free­land earned up to £11,776 in the in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum in 2014, £11,886 in last year’s UK elec­tions, £ 17,188 in the Holy­rood elec­tion and up to £11,515 for act­ing as re­turn­ing of­fi­cer in the EU ref­er­en­dum.

It is es­ti­mated al­most £500,000 was shared be­tween the 32 re­turn­ing of­fi­cers in­side a mat­ter of weeks in 2016, due to the Holy­rood elec­tion and the EU ref­er­en­dum.

Mr Free­land joined South La­nark­shire Coun­cil in 1995, hav­ing pre­vi­ously served as deputy di­rec­tor of hous­ing with Cun­ning­hame District Coun­cil.

Re­turn­ing of­fi­cers are re­spon­si­ble for en­sur­ing elec­tions are ad­min­is­tered ef­fec­tively. They are per­son­ally li­able for the con­duct of polls and could face court ac­tion if they breach their of­fi­cial duty.

As well as pro­vid­ing polling sta­tions, man­ag­ing the postal vot­ing process, ver­i­fy­ing and count­ing votes, they must de­clare the re­sult.

A South La­nark­shire Coun­cil spokesman said: “The pay­ments for re­turn­ing of­fi­cers are set at a na­tional level in con­nec­tion with their key role in en­sur­ing the ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive con­duct of elec­tions and ref­er­en­dums.”

Con­vener of Holy­rood’s lo­cal govern­ment com­mit­tee Bob Doris said there was “un­der­stand­able pub­lic con­cern” about the sums be­ing paid out.

“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,” he said.

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

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