Scotland politics

Holyrood 2016: Who earns the most in the public sector?

The Holyrood election campaign is under way and the policy announcements from Scotland's main political parties are starting to flow.

But do they make sense to you and where do the figures used come from?

Here, I've looked at claims by UKIP's David Coburn that some public officials are earning salaries of £100,000 plus.

Are there a lot of high earning public officials in Scotland?

Who are Scotland's big public sector earners?


Council staff earning £100,000+

  • 27 - Earning more than £150,000

  • 4 - Earning more than £200,000


Raising tax on the highest paid has had the strongest consensus of any policy put to a public opinion survey for BBC Scotland.

Questioning people about policies does not require them to prioritise policies, or balance the trade-offs between policies. For instance, how much could higher tax hit economic growth?

Another response to the high earner issue, raised by David Coburn, in the first of the TV debates, is whether too much is spent on high earning public officials.

The UKIP leader in Scotland, also an MEP, quoted figures suggesting Glasgow has 30 employees on salaries of more than £100,000.

That is the figure in a report by the Taxpayers Alliance, which compiles information from council publications.

Along with salaries, it includes both pay-offs and large one-off pension contributions along with salaries.

As these are one-offs, they can make a very significant difference to the figures.

The Taxpayers Alliance claimed last year that there were 251 such staff in Scottish councils, 27 on more than £150,000 and four earning more than £200,000.

Outside local authorities, who else earns the big money?

Image copyright PA

Public sector high earners are harder to find elsewhere. Their pension entitlements are handled differently and less explicitly.

Those earning more than £150,000 include;

  • the Scottish government's permanent secretary
  • the chief executives of Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Futures Trust, as well as
  • and the most senior three executives at publicly-owned Scottish Water.

What about the health service?

Image copyright SPL

Out of 17,000 additional rate taxpayers in Scotland, by far the biggest group with (mostly) public funding appear to be doctors.

The Scottish Parliament Information Centre drew from the Survey of Personal Incomes in 2009-10 to calculate that 13% of Additional Rate Taxpayers were in health and social services - slightly more than in finance that year, and three times more than the oil and gas sector.

That may distort the picture for most people working in the public sector. In 2014, median pay in Scotland for full-time public sector workers (that is, the pay of the person with equal numbers paid more and paid less) was £30,800.

The issue for many of them is how much they have fallen behind in terms of real spending power, as pay rises have been tightly pegged, pension conditions have been cut back and bonus payments have been stopped.

Part-time workers are typically paid less, including catering and care workers. But full-time employment for the various arms of government in Scotland was comfortably ahead of the £24,900 median pay for private sector workers.

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