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Government compromise agreements called into question

19 January 2011

Increased transparency in severance payments to Scottish Government and public body staff has been highlighted as a key theme of the current parliamentary session by a watchdog committee of MSPs.

In a report drawing together its work over the session that ends with the elections in May, the Public Accounts Committee says the issue is one of three themes to have emerged from its work.

The committee highlighted its concerns in holding the Scottish Government and public bodies to account on the financial payments made to departing staff and the transparency of senior civil servant salaries. It cites as examples its reports on the First Scotrail passenger rail franchise and the 2008-2009 Audit of Transport Scotland.

Committee Convener Hugh Henry MSP said: “One of the three key themes we have identified is transparency, particularly in the financial payments made to Scottish Government staff as well as the way that the government takes decisions. We found that the use of compromise and confidentially agreements constrained the committee’s ability and that of Parliament to effectively scrutinise the use of public money. We believe the presumption should be for disclosure.

“The committee also found that issues surrounding governance arose repeatedly in our reports. This was sometimes through poor performances at individual or board level being allowed to continue without challenge, or through the lack of clear measureable outcomes being identified at the start of the policy or project. The committee believes that there is often a failure to tackle poor performance and this needs to be addressed rather than shifting the problem sideways."

The committee has specifically asked for an update as to whether the Government will continue to use compromise agreements with departing staff.

Mr Henry added that the committee had further concerns about the management and scrutiny of major capital projects. "Given the current financial climate both these areas of risk need to be tackled if limited public funds are to be used to their best advantage. ”

The committee also believes that improvements in data collection at a national level are essential if public bodies are to achieve efficiency savings. The committee cites as example, reports on free personal and nursing care; review of palliative care services in Scotland, and overview of mental health services.

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