More than a hundred SIC employees earned salaries of £50,000 or more in the last financial year, almost five times the number of high earners in the same bracket at Orkney Islands Council.
A report before councillors this week showed 111 SIC workers belonged in a remuneration band exceeding £50,000 in 2012/13. In comparison, just 23 staff members in the Orkney local authority took home over £50,000 during the same period.
The findings also show a redundancy package of £204,000 to one individual in the same financial year. That pay-out will partly be covered by pension fund costs, but the figure still lies within the top possible bracket of so-called “exit packages”. The council has declined to reveal the name of the recipient, citing the Data Protection Act as the reason.
The wage statistics for Shetland were revealed in a report before members of the SIC audit and standards committee on Monday.
While the figures are considerably higher than Orkney’s, they do represent a drop from the previous financial year’s figure of 133.
Audit and standards committee Allison Duncan said the reduction reflected progress being made in ongoing “organisational reviews”, such as Ports for the Future.
“The remuneration report includes exit packages so depending on the timing of exits and factors such as length of service, will include employees whose salary is less than £50,000,” he said.
“Therefore while there are a number of staffing reviews taking place the remuneration report may show increases from year to year while the actual number of senior employees reduce.”
SIC political leader Gary Robinson insisted the figures would be skewed by ferry staff and pilot crews operating at Sella Ness.
“I think for a long time now our figures have been high compared with the likes of Orkney and the Western Isles, for the simple reason that we run ferry and towage services,” Mr Robinson said.
“The wages within those posts are very much in line with what’s paid in the industry for masters, mates, chief engineers and – in Shetland’s case – pilots as well. That does tend to push up the figures and the 111 that we speak of would be in those types of services.
“It is very much the case that there are some of these posts that we struggle to recruit for, and that’s an indication of the difficulties we have in training and maintaining staff, particularly on the marine side.
“The pay and conditions are agreed nationally as part of the joint negotiations, so we very much have to pay the going rate.
“That said, as a small authority serving a smaller than average number of people in terms of a mainland local authority, our pay levels in the main are lower. Our chief executive is among the lowest paid in the country, just by virtue of the fact that we are one of the smaller local authorities.”
Unison branch spokesman Brian Smith declined to comment on the pay levels, adding that some of his members may be among those in the top pay band.
During Monday’s committee meeting Amanda Westlake challenged performance and improvement adviser Jim MacLeod over sickness levels.
She raised concerns over statistics which showed non-teaching staff lost an average of 12.2 days through sickness in 2012/13. That represented a slight improvement on the 13 days recorded for 2011/12, but was no different from the previous two financial years.
Meanwhile her fellow Lerwick councillor Michael Stout wondered whether a measure of morale among SIC staff could be factored into the council’s sickness figures.
Mr Duncan told the meeting he believed the council could learn lessons from NHS Shetland’s sickness rate. The health authority recorded only 9.03 days’ sickness absence during 2012/13, representing a four per cent absence rate. That is down from the 10.98 days lost through sickness at the NHS in 2011/12.
After the meeting Mr MacLeod pointed to more up-to-date council figures which showed an improving trend. He said new statistics revealing the sickness percentage rate across the council had dropped from 4.4 per cent down to 3.6 per cent in the year from April 2012. The May-to-May figures showed a similar improvement, from 4.5 down to 3.2.
Mr Mcleod said: “I’m pretty confident that that trend will remain the same because we have put a lot of work into it.”
People may always be susceptible to bugs during the winter months, and Mr MacLeod told councillors sickness levels were seasonal. He said a “spike” in January this year represented a time when people were becoming infected with the winter vomiting bug, norovirus.