by EWAN LAMB
The Scottish Borders may have one of the lowest wage economies in the United Kngdom, and 4,000 people who work here have to hold down at least two jobs just to make ends meet. But the local council's annual accounts for 2014/15 reveal yet another round of massive redundancy packages and platinum-plated pensions at the other end of the incomes scale.
Meanwhile chief executive Tracey Logan's total remuneration increased from £118,000 to £128,000 while the number of council employees earning more than £50,000 per annum shot up by over 13 per cent from 96 to 109. At the same time public sector pay nationally has been virtually frozen with unions battling to secure one per cent increases for even the lowest paid.
The 111-page document recording how SBC spent our money during the last financial year includes a remuneration report which has the potential to spark a brief bout of public outrage before the figures are forgotten. The statistics have been 'achieved' against what the document dubs "a very difficult financial background".
The revelations relating to compensation for loss of employment and the accompanying figures on pensions for a trio of former top brass will maybe raise the odd eyebrow even though the payments are perfectly justified and the recipients are fully entitled to them. So surely it is the local government system of remuneration which is in urgent need of a radical overhaul.
For the record, here are the three top payments dished out to leaving officers in 2014/15. J G Rodger, Director of Education & Lifelong Learning - compensation for loss of employment £82,569, pension £48,999 per annum, pension lump sum £119,798; H L Thompson, Head of Transformation Projects - compensation £60,843, pension £39,062 p.a., pension lump sum £98,943; I Wilkie, Head of Corporate Governance - compensation £61,892, pension £34,242 p.a., pension lump sum £84,484.
The total of 40 exit packages, among them 21 compulsory redundancies, cost £626,136.
One disgruntled punter told us: "If only we could attract a few private companies to the Borders who'd be willing to offer salaries, pensions and severance packages on this scale. Then maybe more of your talented young people would be tempted to stay. Some of the sums mentioned in the report are, quite frankly, beyond belief".
There are a number of other interesting sets of data within the confines of the annual accounts. For example, the percentage of household waste recycled has, in line with projections, reduced from 39.27% to 36.03%. Those statistics come on the back of the withdrawal of garden waste collections.
SBC also continues to be hog-tied by inescapable debt payments on the three secondary schools which were build under the controversial PFI system almost a decade ago. A payment of £8.296 million, including interest, will be required in 2015/16 alone to service the debt. The total due over the next 30 years is recorded as £258.210 million...enough to pay for a good few exit packages!
Management commentary on the accounts concludes: "The operating environment for the Council continues to be very challenging with financial and economic influences such as welfare reform, increasing demands on services, low interest rates and cost pressures from pay and price inflation all affecting the Council's finances.
"The Council, despite these challenges, remains financially sound and well placed to serve the people of he Scottish Borders in future."