Public Sector Early-Departure Schemes

– in the Scottish Parliament on 30th May 2013.

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Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour

5. To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to Audit Scotland’s report, “Managing early departures from the Scottish public sector”, which states that the public sector is spending £280 million a year on early departure schemes. (S4F-01432)

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

The report goes on to note the effective savings that have been made by the voluntary service arrangements conducted by the Scottish Government. Under the funding pressure from Westminster, it is inevitable that there will be reductions in the number of those working in the Scottish public service. Our policy of no compulsory redundancies is the right one, not just because it treats people who are in that position humanely and with respect but because it gives security to those who remain in the public sector. The policy is supported by our unions and pursued by the Government, and it is not available elsewhere in these islands.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour

I thank the First Minister for his response, but I am not sure whether he agrees that Audit Scotland is right to criticise the extensive use of early exit packages. Does he at least share my unease about the concerns raised with me by civilian staff in the newly created Police Scotland that a pool of money has been allocated to provide for exit packages for a tranche of senior police officers in order to reduce their numbers through enhanced redundancy settlements? As it is not unheard of for senior officers in the police and fire and rescue services to take exit packages only to return in the same or similar capacity, will the First Minister today give the Parliament a commitment that if and when senior police officers take golden goodbyes, they will not thereafter be able to say a golden “’Ello, ’ello, ’ello” to new and similar jobs in Police Scotland?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I can give an absolute assurance that the police and fire services in Scotland will be managed rather more effectively than many Labour local authorities have been, in terms of exactly the things that the member is speaking about.

I do not think that the member should be allowed to set the Audit Scotland report in the context in which he set it. For example, on page 4, Audit Scotland said:

“Early retirements and voluntary redundancies, for example, can be a useful way of avoiding the delays and costs of compulsory redundancies ... Once the initial outlay has been recouped, they can provide significant savings for organisations.”

The member should reflect on the balance of what the Audit Scotland report had to say about that. He should also reflect on the range of cases—cases that I could quote to him—in which the practices and policies of some of his colleagues in local government have been brought seriously into question.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

When I asked the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth yesterday why the Scottish Government was spending 10 times as much on pushing people out of the door as it is on trying to find people employment, he gave in his defence the same excuse that the First Minister has just given: the Scottish Government has a policy of no compulsory redundancies and, furthermore, uses compromise agreements only in a minority of cases. Labour’s freedom of information requests on the subject reveal that, since Mr Salmond came to power, the Scottish Government has spent £10 million on compulsory redundancies and £45 million on compromise agreements. Can the First Minister explain that?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

As Ken Macintosh knows, we introduced a no compulsory redundancies policy over the past two or three years, progressively across central Government in Scotland. Is the Labour Party saying that it would not have a no compulsory redundancies policy? If so, it had better tell the public sector unions, which are firmly in favour of the policy.

Ken Macintosh should also compare the public service in Scotland with the service in the rest of the United Kingdom. Public service numbers are down less in Scotland than they are across the UK, because of the sensitivity with which we handle the policy.

It is right and proper to have a policy of no compulsory redundancies. If Ken Macintosh, as the Labour Party spokesman who looks after the welfare of public sector employees, would have compulsory redundancies, let him say so. Our policy meets the requirements of the public services in Scotland and is much more in tune with what the Scottish people demand than anything that Ken Macintosh could come up with.