By Democrat reporters
The cost to taxpayers of the dark art of spin doctoring by public authorities in Scotland is increasing exponentially.
The days of long lunches, fine wines and eye-watering expense accounts are far from over – and salaries continue to soar.
Now Jackie Baillie MSP has hit out as NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde is spending at least £667,000 of public money on so-called spin doctors – while healthcare staff are struggling to cope with demand.
Across 13 staff and one recently advertised post, the wage bill in the corporate communications department at the local health board, which covers the whole of West Dunbartonshire, Argyll and Bute and Glasgow city, is a minimum of £667,406.
It was recently revealed that NHSGGC (the Health Board) also paid £15,000 a year to US firm Meltwate, for investigation software used to spy on bereaved families.
The total bill for NHS spin across Scotland has been revealed as being at least £8.5 million, after figures were released to Scottish Labour under Freedom of Information legislation.
The ever-growing figure is for communications staff across all 14 territorial and 8 special health boards as well as the Scottish Government team covering health and social care.
These figures for communications staff are also likely to be an underestimate as they are based on the lowest points within pay bands and do not take account of staff who are at higher levels within their pay bandings.
Since this time last year, the wage bill in Greater Glasgow and Clyde has increased by about 25 percent from £538,309 to £667,406. In comparison, the average wage rise for individual NHS staff, including nurses, midwives, paramedics, allied health professionals, porters and others over the last year was 6.5 percent.
Scottish Labour’s health and social care spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “It is deeply worrying to see this level of money being spent on communications within NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde while the NHS is in crisis.
“That such an eye-watering bill is being paid out of the public purse while the health board runs a spying operation on critics, whistle-blowers and victims of the scandal at the QEUH is horrifying.
“The problems at the Queen Elizabeth have been well documented and it is clear from the volume of social media posts focused on the flagship hospital that a sizeable chunk of this cash is being used to counter the negative publicity and launder the reputation of the health board.
“The hard-working healthcare staff have gone above and beyond but they have been let down by decisions taken at management level. This scale of cash being spent on spin is the latest kick in the teeth to the workforce as the money would be far better spent on more frontline healthcare staff.
“It is important that people who stay within the health board area know what is going on and are being given information but the sheer amount of money being spent on spin doctors is wrong.”
Spin doctors are busy empire building and in West Dunbartonsire they have overstepped the mark by refusing to accept questions or supply media facilities to newspapers and news organisations such as The Dumbarton Democrat.
One consequence of their interference has been the chief communications officer Amanda Graham, pictured right, taking matters into her own hands and without the approval of any committee depriving The Democrat of access to meetings. That is anti-democratic.
We have been locked out of meetings and refused a seat where we can take notes and see and hear what is happening at meetings.
The Council have also tried to keep members of the public out of public meetings which led to unseemly skirmishes between council officers and elderly members of the public in the reception space at the Council offices in Church Street.
Our editor who has 60 years experience in journalism and won many industry awards, including Scotland’s Weekly Newspaper Journalist of the Year three times, has been told told that he does not qualify to be recognised as a journalist by the Council despite the fact that he is a Life Member of the National Union of Journalists and a member of the Society of Editors.
He said: “This is the kind of anti-democratic treatment journalists might expect to receive in Russia or China and the Council’s attitude is akin to those commonly held by the Stasi in East Germany.
“Ms Graham and those elected representatives supporting her decision have lost the run of themselves and badly need to get a grip before the council comes back on stream in the autumn.”
If our politicians and officials – both Labour and SNP – can’t stand the heat of being held up to public scrutiny then they should get out of the kitchen.
Meanwhile, the Public Relations gravy train continues to roll across Scotland where some councils and health boards have more spin doctors than most local newspapers have reporters.
Data released to Scottish Labour by Freedom of Information Request
|Staff employed||Wage Bill
|NHS Ayrshire & Arran||5.1 (WTE)||£218,641.90||£174,552|
|NHS Dumfries & Galloway||5||£186,755||£174,497|
|NHS Forth Valley||4||£161,063||£146,361|
|NHS Grampian||8 full time, 3 part time||£386,896.50*||£321,529*|
|NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde||14 (including one recently advertised post)||£667,406||£538,309|
|NHS Orkney & NHS Shetland||3||£98,289||£73,651|
|NHS Tayside||7.6 (WTE)||£283,187.20||£252,193|
|NHS Western Isles||2||£105,116||£93,802|
|Healthcare Improvement Scotland||15||£600,163||£576,879|
|The State Hospital||3||£117,450||£50,965|
|NHS Education for Scotland||18||£658,947||£509,460|
|Public Health Scotland||7 WTE permanent, 1.6 temporary||£368,776**||£364,550|
|NHS National Services Scotland||12 staff, 5 vacancies||£498,560||£629,746*|
|Scottish Ambulance Service||5||£249,951||£229,402|
|TOTAL||183.1 (plus 3 part time and 1.6 temporary)||£7,463,153.20||£6,605,693|
|Scottish Government Health and Social Care Departments||36.9 WTE||£1,073,864||N/A|
The lowest banding has been used for calculation and this is therefore the minimum amount paid on salaries. Some staff are likely to be paid at higher levels within pay bands, and employers will also incur pensions and national insurance contributions. The overall bill is therefore likely to be higher.
*Part time staff have been calculated at half pay.
**An average has been taken as there are 10 permanent members of staff working in 7 WTE roles.
When these same Freedom of Information requests were sent to the health boards last year in May 2022 the total wage bill for corporate communications was at least £6,605,693 – equivalent to a 13 percent increase.
NHS pay rise announcement by the Scottish Government, March 2023 https://www.gov.scot/news/nhs-pay-rise-delivered-in-april/#:~:text=160%2C000%20NHS%20staff%20%E2%80%93%20including%20nurses,in%20pay%20in%202023%2D24.