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MSPs To Examine Payments
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.
Holyrood’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 that 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 that elections are administered effectively in their constituencies.
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.”