Monday, July 16, 2012

Calls for transparency over £5 MILLION staff handouts & £318K exit package for ex Scottish Borders Council Chief Executive

Calls for openness over staggering £318K payoff for Council Chief Executive David Hume. THE CONTROVERSY continues over massive payouts of sums totalling FIVE MILLION POUNDS of public money handed out by Scottish Borders Council to some two hundred staff including a huge payout of £318,000 to former Chief Executive David Hume, as calls grow for openness and transparency over what has been dubbed unjustifiable outlays from the scandal hit Council which now finds itself in debt to the tune of £262 million pounds. Scottish Law Reporter reported on the over generous £5 million pound exit packages handed out to 203 SBC staff and late last week, we revealed in an exclusive report how former Chief Executive David Hume has now taken up a consultancy role for the Scottish Government who are paying his salary via a Limited company.

In response to the Southern Reporter’s publishing of a report regarding Mr Hume’s massive payout, Council publishes details of former chief exec’s exit deal, retired Scotsman journalist William Chisholm, who has been looking into the overgenerous exit packages awarded to staff at Scottish Borders Council has raised serious questions enquiring which Council committee signed off these exit deals, and suggested that “a significant number of the councillors who were members of Scottish Borders Council prior to this May’s elections had no knowledge of these extremely generous packages until the council’s accounts were published on June 30th.”

In the Southern Reporter’s article, SBC’s current Chief Executive, ‘Ms’ Tracey Logan told the paper : “We have been as open and transparent as we can. We are required to publish these details and it can all be taken at face value.”

However, Mr Chisholm rubbished ‘Ms’ Logan’s claims, pointing out the figures relating to David Hume’s massive payoff only became public after the media published details of several Freedom of Information requests which partially revealed the extent of double dealing and secrecy within the Council relating to the circumstances of Mr Hume’s departure, branded a ‘retirement’ by SBC leader David Parker, while documents obtained from Audit Scotland confirmed Mr Hume’s exit was in actuality a voluntary redundancy.

The Southern also further quoted ‘Ms’ Logan as saying “she felt people were entitled to a degree of privacy in their lives, even those working for public organisations such as the council.”

However, campaigners have countered whenever public funds are involved, especially in such numbers, there should be full transparency with no exception.

Campaigners have also queried why Scottish Borders Council “severely obstructed freedom of information requests” regarding Mr Hume’s departure, especially in light of facts reporting Mr Hume’s new position as a consultant for Children's Hearings Scotland, a Scottish Government quango, is being paid for via a limited company.

A member of the public who outed Mr Hume's latest lucrative position after leaving SBC, has told Scottish Law Reporter such payment arrangements using limited companies are now widely recognised as TAX AVOIDANCE schemes, a claim which has shamed earlier claims by Scottish Government Finance Secretary John Swinney that no such salaries are paid in Scotland.

Retired Scotsman journalist William Chisholm tackles the crisis in transparency at Scottish Borders Council :

Openness and transparency a must from now on

By William Chisholm

Your report “Council publishes details of former chief exec’s exit deal” (July 5) included statements from Mr David Hume’s successor which claimed: “We have been as open and transparent as we can” and “It can all be taken at face value”.

Those claims have something of a hollow ring to them given that Scottish Borders Council’s Freedom of Information archive shows our local authority refused requests to reveal details of the eye watering amounts of our money which had been handed over to departing members of staff during the 2011/2012 financial year.

I feel certain that but for changes in the rules governing local authority remuneration reports – councils MUST now divulge these previously well-guarded financial secrets – Borders council taxpayers would never have been told that more than £5 million had been distributed to 203 “retiring” members of staff.

Indeed it has been suggested to me that a significant number of the councillors who were members of SBC prior to this May’s elections had no knowledge of these extremely generous packages until the council’s accounts were published on June 30th. The same apparent lack of elected member involvement applied when it was decided to deposit millions of pounds of other people’s money in the unstable Icelandic banks between 2006 and 2008. Where was the transparency and openness?

So which council committee signed off these exit deals, and did anyone attempt to challenge the scale of the severance packages? A number of other councils have managed to reduce staff numbers at less cost suggesting the SBC programme is not particularly discriminatory.

According to the recently published accounts annual recurring savings from the £5.184 million exit packages will total an impressive £3.693 million with a pay-back period of 1.4 years. That remains to be seen. However, none of those savings will accrue from Mr Hume’s departure as he has been replaced after receiving £103,000 as “compensation for loss of employment”.

And do the projected savings take into account SBC’s decision to seek and obtain the Scottish Government’s consent to borrow £1.7 million to cover severance costs? So far, according to Government figures, SBC has used £1.291 million of that consent as well as the £1.021 million they borrowed to make up the Icelandic bank losses. ‘Borrow your way out of trouble’ seems to be the policy.

I would argue there has been a deliberate lack of openness and transparency on the part of the vast majority of local authorities over many decades. Yet if their plans and decisions hatched in private are sound and fair then why do they have to be forced to eventually disclose so many matters of public interest? Will openness and transparency triumph at SBC from now on? Watch this space!


Chief Executive Tracey Logan – campaigners asked Council about ‘relationships, conflict of interest’ with David Hume. Scottish Borders Council officials have still not explained the reasons behind Freedom of Information requests raised by members of the public in relation to “any business or personal relationships or conflicts of interest between either party occurring prior to Tracey Logan's appointment as Chief Executive and during the time Mr Hume was Chief Executive”, reported in an earlier article HERE. The same report also revealed that ‘Ms’ Logan had been signed off work for a number of weeks during the media scandal surrounding Mr Hume’s exit from SBC, and that during her absence, some SEVENTEEN THOUSAND POUNDS was spent on redecorating her office, previously occupied by Mr Hume.

Council Leader David Parker & Chief Executive David Hume before murky exit While behind the scenes bitter legal negotiations were going on between lawyers acting for Mr Hume & the Council over a “voluntary redundancy” which Council Chiefs had spun into a “retirement, Council Leader David Parker said in a press release announcing Hume’s exit : “The Council is most grateful to David for his loyal and dedicated service over the last nine years. He has been instrumental in the Council’s success, and has demonstrated enormous commitment to the Council and the Scottish Borders. He departs with the best wishes of all elected Members and staff. He leaves a Council that is in strong heart, and which has been transformed under his leadership.”

Scottish Law Reporter has previously covered a long battle between local campaigners and Scottish Borders Council who were refusing to publish details of Mr Hume’s huge publicly funded pay off in articles HERE, where it was reported Mr Hume was effectively “pushed out” of his Council post, and HERE, where it had become clear senior figures at the Council had used the scandal & cover up to maintain their grip on power.

Revelations of Mr Hume’s spending spree on Council funded credit cards, reported in more detail by Scottish Law Reporter HERE, was taken up by the SNP’s Christine Grahame, MSP for the area and Chair of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee who questioned why Mr Hume was able to use a corporate credit card while many constituents in the Scottish Borders are facing financial oblivion.


Anonymous said...

If no councillors were in on the decision to hand out five million that means this was down to Council staff awarding their colleagues buckets of our money.

Clearly SBC needs a new leader without any ties to the old regime and that includes Logan,Parker etc

Anonymous said...

The Southern also further quoted ‘Ms’ Logan as saying “she felt people were entitled to a degree of privacy in their lives, even those working for public organisations such as the council.”

** Logan.This is taxpayers dosh.Name all those and the amounts and put them through the same rings you do benefits claimants.

Anonymous said...

And any new leader should be an independent, as it is clear from these reports what kind of service the SNP led Councils offer the Public.

Anonymous said...

Been following all this in the Southern and agree it is a shocking disgrace BUT what is worse is the absolutely NO condemnation whatsoever from Christine Grahame and the SNP.During the cooncil's tory libdem years there was never a chance passed up by Graham to slate SBC and now we have £5million doing a walkies and not a peep on any of it not even the £262m debt figure.

Anonymous said...

and there wont be any SNP condemnation because they now run SBC

and no punishment for anyone who masterminded the increase to the huge debt

Anonymous said...

Anyone for a large helping of double standards?

No doubt the 'worthies' on the Borders Council would join their colleagues in Bournemouth and rejoice at the 12 weeks imprisonment handed down to someone who had defrauded the DWP of the 'truly shocking' sum of £24thousand pounds.

Anonymous said...

So,fingers in the till all round at Scottish Borders Council..

Anonymous said...

Worse than benefits cheats