Angels or Vampires?

According to SCVO there are over 45,000 Third-Sector organisations (i.e. charities) in Scotland, employing a total of 138,000 people with a turnover totalling just under £5bn each year—getting on for 10% of our GDP. Many of them do sterling work and are bulwarks against the worst effects of modern society, market-driven economies and the increasing complexity of 21st century life.

Third Sector in Scotland (Source: SCVO)

Third Sector in Scotland (Source: SCVO)

In general, Scots are generous in their support for what is now a massive sector. But, just as the NHS—laudable though the great majority of its front-line staff are—suffers from pencil-neck jobsworths and third-rate administrators, not everyone in the third sector is a selfless hero(ine) working for the good of all, as opposed to themselves. High streets across Scotland are filled with charity shops, staffed by volunteers who receive nothing for their time. But running these large operations are salaried ‘professionals’ who are just the tip of the third-sector salary iceberg.

Across Scotland’s 100 biggest charities, 57 members of staff enjoyed wages of more than £60,000 in 2014 (in 2012, the number had been just 45), an average increase of 26% in the last three years when wage inflation had crawled up at 2.2%. Examples from the top of the heap include:

  • SSPCA‘s Stuart Early whose wage jumped from £160,000 to £185,000 (he who closed a £20,000-per annum Shetland shelter because the charity “couldn’t afford it“)
  • Laura Lee of Maggie’s Centre who’s on £120,000
  • Bosses at Quarriers, Capability Scotland, Scottish Autism and SAMH all around the £100,000 mark.

Even the SCVO itself is a charity with two members of staff on more than £60,000. There are more than 23,700 charities in Scotland but OSCR will stop short of revealing the pay packets of top staff. Charities Aid Foundation, which has carried out a study said “Many people remain concerned the money they donate may not be used to best effect“. Given they found poorer families were proportionately the most generous, with those earning less than £9,500 a year most likely to give away around 4% of their earnings, such coyness seems a travesty.

Not included in the above is the quangocracy that has spread across Scotland, with similar well paid jobs that are equally obscure where the public is concerned. A Quango (Quasi-non-governmental-organisations) is “an organisation that has responsibility for developing, managing and delivering public policy objectives at ‘arm’s length’ from government. Such bodies assist in the delivery of public services in Scotland including culture, healthcare, the environment and justice.” They have a long history of operation in the UK and have become an established part of public sector delivery. At least charities have a public profile through shops, adverts, street collection, volunteering, etc. Quangos are much more a mystery. Yet Reform Scotland has established:

  • 43 quango officials are paid more than the First Minister (£144,607)
  • 132—enough to fill the Scottish Parliament–are paid more than a Cabinet Secretary (£103,495)
  • Over 200 are paid more than a Government Minister (£86,405)
  • Nearly 700 are paid more than an MSP (£59,085)

That totals to over £78m or £25 each year for every man, woman and child in Scotland. And Scotland is a small place. Where once ‘The Establishment” (i.e. senior advocates, Heriots/Fettes FPs, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Archers, etc) controlled many senior job placements, since devolution there a new kind of mafia grew up in the revived political firmament who also know one another and regularly show up in plum jobs.

The growth in quango numbers and budgets has meant significant expenditure streams are largely invisible to the public who pays for them. As Reform Scotland says:

“The current lack of openness and accountability is not conducive to good governance. Power exercised by government derives from consent of the people and should be exercised in their interests. It is difficult for people to judge whether that is the case when the current way blurs accountability.”

Research on quango spend on PR, overseas travel, external consultants and hospitality/entertainment comes to an annual total of £113m. This breaks down as:

  • £66.8 million per year on public relations
  • £3.7 million annually on overseas travel
  • £2.5 million on hospitality and entertainment
  • £40.2 million on external consultants

Buried within the above (and surely deserving of deeper investigation) are:

  • £300,000 on overseas travel by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)
  • £6.7 million by Scottish Water a year on consultants
  • £209,000 annually by Creative Scotland on public relations (somewhat explicable if not excusable by its squirmingly bad public profile)
  • £2.8 million for external consultants by Scottish National Heritage
  • £1.5 million on PR by Skills Development Scotland AND
  • £1 million on consultants by Skills Development Scotland
  • £1 million per year by Health Boards on hospitality and entertaining

This last item alone should set alarm bells ringing. When people are dying forgotten in our most modern hospital, when other budgets are pared to sustain the NHS’s, when Health Boards’ competence to oversee their multi-£m empires is under serious question, what are they doing squandering your money on ‘hospitality’? £1m buys a lot of custard creams.

There are, for example 24 board members of Lothian NHS Trust, headquartered in the prime office space of Waverley Gate (the old GPO building) at outrageous cost to the public purse and none of which assists a single patient. As an example of its ‘transparency’ its Annual Report and Financial Information doesn’t even mention ‘remuneration’ or anything as sordid as ‘pay’.

Both main parties seem content to sustain this irresponsibility. While the Scottish Parliament engages in an unedifying rammy over what to do with a putative £113m that may come their way from 50% of a devolved Air Passenger Duty, they might dig into the £200m listed above and many more such dark corners.

Our Labour opposition might think of waking up and combing through all the slumbering numpties they appointed 1999-2007 for efficacy and the SNP government do the same for their profligate appointments since. Because, from a country that once grew rich from building things for the whole world, we now specialise in featherbedding mediocre administrators into ever-more-expensive cushy numbers across our burgeoning charities and quangos. Because our riches are no longer self-generated, this is unsustainable.

Independence or no, unless we wake up, winnow our bloated quangocracy and knuckle under to steer people into jobs that emulate Switzerland (high-end services) Singapore (major trading entrepot) or Germany (precision manufacturing) our Byzantine third sector moguls will join those shoals of globetrotting/factfinding (but never doing anything) board members on the burroo with the rest of us.

About davidsberry

Local ex-councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Retired in 2017.
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