Scotland politics

MSPs to examine election officials' pay amid 'public concern'

Ballot boxes waiting to be counted during last year's Scottish independence referendum Image copyright PA
Image caption Returning officers have overseen a string of elections and referendums in Scotland

MSPs are to examine the payments received by election returning officers in Scotland.

There have been calls for reform of the system, which often sees highly-paid council chiefs get extra payments of tens of thousands of pounds.

Holyrood's local government committee is to examine how the payments are made and how appropriate they are.

Convener Bob Doris said there was "understandable public concern" about the sums being paid out.

Returning officers have been in high demand in recent years, with Scotland going to the polls for five elections and referendums across three years.

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 Doris said the total sum may stretch to £1m over two years when the 2015 general election is taken into account.

The SNP MSP said: "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. We want to find out more about how these payments operate, what their uptake is and whether they remain appropriate."

Returning officers are responsible for ensuring the smooth running of elections at a local, national and European level, as well as referendums. The role is often carried out by council chief executives on top of their normal duties.

MSPs will hear from electoral law experts and local government officials, trade unions and academics as well as returning officers across two meetings in November.

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