Extra payments made to returning officers for administering polls and elections should end, according to a parliamentary report.
The current system lacks transparency and could impact on people’s views on the integrity of the system, says Holyrood’s Local Government and Communities Committee.
The findings come in an inquiry report into payments made to returning officers in Scotland.
Convener of the Local Government and Communities Committee, Bob Doris MSP, said:
“Our committee has found that the current system of payments to returning officers is lacking transparency, which could have an impact on people’s views on the integrity of the system.
“There is a lack of transparency around the value of these payments and how they are allocated, however we heard that payments can range from £2,500 in Orkney and Shetland to over £16,000 in Edinburgh and may reportedly be worth as much £1m in total.
“We believe that all costs associated with elections should be processed around the principles of openness and transparency if the public are to have confidence in how our elections are run.”
On the independence and role of returning officers, the committee concluded as follows:
• The Committee recognises the high level of personal responsibility placed on Returning Officers during the election period and acknowledges the hard work and commitment shown by them. We believe it is vital that this personal responsibility remains to ensure appropriate levels of accountability.
• The Committee agrees that the role should remain independent and outwith political control in order to maintain confidence in those carrying out the role. The Committee is not persuaded that the current system of remuneration is commensurate with the workload, responsibilities and liabilities of the role.
• The Committee believes that the processes of appointing Returning Officers and their roles should be reviewed and that any review should take into account the fees already available to ROs to remunerate election staff, the frequency of and routineness of carrying out elections and pressure on resources elsewhere in local authorities.
• The review should ensure that all staff involved in elections are remunerated appropriately.
• We recognise that the Scottish Government has already confirmed that it is committed to consulting on electoral reform in 2016-17, given new powers devolved under the Scotland Act 2016 over the conduct of Scottish Parliamentary elections and electoral registration. We therefore recommend that the Scottish Government considers the role and remuneration of Returning Officers as part of its review.