You have to wonder what sort of world the SNP Government is living in. Alex Salmond hangs around with so many rich and powerful people that maybe he thinks £55,000 is loose change.
Anyway, the chief executive of Scottish Enterprise, Lena Wilson, has taken on an extra job, which requires 12 days’ work a year and is to be paid £55,000 for the privilege without losing any of her Scottish Enterprise salary of £200,000 for the days she’s not there. Given that the average wage is somewhere around £26,000, most Scots will find it incomprehensible that the SNP Goverment has agreed to this.
Willie Rennie tackled the First Minister about it yesterday. Here’s the exchange:
Willie Rennie: Earlier this week, I received a letter from a former senior official of Scottish Enterprise, who was angry at the appointment of the chief executive of Scottish Enterprise to the board of Intertek for an annual payment of £55,000 on top of her £200,000 salary. What does the First Minister have to say to that former Scottish Enterprise official?
The First Minister: I am surprised, because there are precedents for the chief executive of Scottish Enterprise being a non-executive director on the board of private companies under the Labour and Liberal Administration. Perhaps the former official was part of that Scottish Enterprise team. I am not sure whether Willie Rennie was aware of that but, nonetheless, it is a fact.
Willie Rennie should look at the positive reaction to this move from a range of business organisations. A lot of people understand the benefits of having the chief executive of Scottish Enterprise as one of the very few Scottish women who have ever been on the board of a FTSE 100 company. There are no conflict of interest concerns, because they have all been dealt with in Scottish Enterprise’s rules and regulations. Perhaps Willie Rennie should look at the broader picture and see the potential benefits to Scotland—and to Scottish Enterprise—of the appointment that was announced earlier this week.
Willie Rennie: Two years ago, the First Minister told the chamber that John Swinney had already acted to heavily restrict bonuses in the public sector; only now we find that there is a loophole allowing access to an extra £55,000. Most people—perhaps not those on the Scottish National Party benches—would not accept that £55,000 for 12 days’ work can be justified for someone who is already being paid £200,000 every year. [Laughter.] SNP members might laugh, but most people will find their laughter hollow.
I cannot really believe that the First Minister supports this appointment. If he reverses this decision today, he will get my support. Will he act?
The First Minister: I was just wondering myself what anyone would pay Willie Rennie as a non-executive director. I suppose that that might have been part of the reason for the interest shown in his comments.
There is a substantive point that Lena Wilson did not put in the press release—it is typical of the woman—but which I should make clear to Willie Rennie, because it might change his attitude to these matters. Under contracts that were drawn up during the years of the Labour and Liberal Administration, Lena Wilson has a contractual entitlement to a public sector bonus; indeed, it was commonplace for the contracts for the chief executive of Scottish Enterprise to set out bonuses. She has relinquished her right to that public sector bonus. It seems to me that Willie Rennie should support that move, because it is in line with Government policy to eliminate contractual entitlements to bonuses from public sector contracts, even those that were drawn up and framed during the Labour and Liberal years of government. Eighty per cent of the people who were entitled to a bonus have voluntarily relinquished it. Lena Wilson has relinquished any entitlement to a public sector bonus. For the sake of fairness, on the record, Willie Rennie should accept that that is in line with Scottish Government policy. He should welcome that.
The decision to allow this appointment is simply not acceptable, especially in the current economic climate and it makes the Government look remote and out of touch. Salmond should think again.
After First Minister’s Questions, Willie Rennie said:
Boasting that bonuses have been abolished means nothing when the First Minister celebrates the £55,000 payment for 12 days work for one of the highest paid civil servants in Scotland.
“Two years ago he told the Parliament that John Swinney had acted “to heavily restrict bonuses in the public sector.” But now he has created his own loophole to allow the bonus culture to continue.