New £5 million contracts for three public sector ‘tsars’

Millions of pounds per year is to be spent on new long-term contracts for three Scottish public sector ‘tsars’ despite deep spending cuts and criticism over some of their work.

By Simon Johnson and Jackie Kemp Daily Telegraph Feb 09 2011



MSPs are expected tomorrow to unanimously approve the reappointment for six years of Scotland’s children’s commissioner, public services ombudsman and Holyrood’s standards watchdog.

Each tsar will earn the full-time equivalent of at least £75,000 per year and together they will control budgets totalling almost £5 million per year.

This is despite Scottish ministers having to find about £1 billion of spending cuts this year and concerns being raised about the scrutiny MSPs gave to the appointments.

In particular, there have been concerns over the performance of Tam Baillie, the children’s commissioner, and his ‘Right Blether’ initiative, which went more than 10 times over budget.

However, a panel comprising Alex Fergusson, Holyrood’s presiding officer, and three senior MSPs has unanimously recommended the three all be reappointed for six years.

The children’s commissioner has the most high profile role and involves “promoting and safeguarding the rights of young people”.

According to a report sent by parliament chiefs to MSPs yesterday, Mr Baillie earns between £75,000 and £80,000 per year. He has been allocated a £1.25 million budget in 2011/12, down slightly on this year’s total of £1.3 million.

However, it emerged last year he spent more than £150,000 travelling the country and speaking to young people as part of his ‘Right Blether’ initiative.

The sum included £4,000 on turning himself into a cartoon character. Professor Kathleen Marshall, his predecessor in the role, told MSPs only £14,000 would be spent on the scheme.

Mr Baillie’s 14 staff received only 154 public queries in one year, the equivalent of only three per week or £8,500 of taxpayers’ money per question.

A recent letter to the Scottish Parliament’s Corporate Body, released under Freedom of Information legislation, states Right Blether is “flawed”. The author, whose name was blocked out by officials, also accuses Mr Baillie of ignoring the advice of his expert staff.

But Kay Tisdall, professor of children’s policy at Edinburgh University, said she was “very supportive” of Mr Baillie’s work and Right Blether.

Jim Martin, the public service ombudsman, is supposed to provide a “one-stop shop” for Scots making complaints about public services.

His starting salary two years ago was £83,000 and his budget next year is almost £3.4 million. His work is supported by the equivalent of 46 full-time members of staff.

However, Alex Neil, the Scottish Housing Minister, has said the watchdog is “not worth a farthing”, claiming it took three-and-a-half years for one of his constituents to get her complaint resolved.

Mr Allan, the standards commissioner, investigates whether MSPs have broken their code of conduct and recommends punishments.

He is paid £38,000 per year but only works between five and 10 days per month, and his annual budget is increasing to £93,000 per year. A Scottish Parliament spokesman refused to comment on the commissioners’ performance or their reappointment.

Charlotte Linacre, campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance said:“It is surprising that these public sector tsars are in line to be rehired by MSPs despite serious questions over the way money was spent and the quality of schemes they oversaw.

“Going ten times over budget and then getting the go ahead to run yet more projects for the next six years is unbelievable.”