NHS Highland bullying victims are having their compensation payments reduced because they are being administered through the health board’s pay-roll, says an MSP.
Edward Mountain, Tory MSP for the Highlands, said the use of the payroll system means current and past employees are being put into higher tax brackets and those who lost their jobs are denied benefits.
Mr Mountain raised the issue at First Minister’s Questions where he argued that the Scottish Government has the power to make compensation payments that would not attract income tax or national insurance payments.
Addressing Nicola Sturgeon, Mr Mountain asked her if she agreed that “unnecessarily” using the payroll system “compounds the pain and suffering” and demonstrated “no compassion” to those who had been “bullied”.
The Tory MSP asked the first minister to “resolve the issue as a matter of urgency”.
The first minister either doesn’t care or doesn’t understand. In four and a half years as an MSP I’ve never heard such a disgraceful response, when all that was needed was compassion.”
Edward Mountain after his exchange with Nicola Sturgeon
The compensation payments are being made after an independent review by John Sturrock QC last year found hundreds of health workers had been subjected to inappropriate behaviour.
Ms Sturgeon replied by saying she would be happy to see if there was a different way of making the payments, which would avoid tax implications.
But she tried to turn attention on to the UK Government. Ms Sturgeon said: “Perhaps there is an easier way for this to be dealt with. The UK Government that is responsible for deciding what income is subject to tax and is in charge of the majority of our benefit system decided to exempt payments like this from that. And while they are at it, they could exempt the £500 bonus for NHS and social care workers as well.”
Her answer infuriated Mr Mountain, who afterwards said: “The First Minister either doesn’t care or doesn’t understand. In four and a half years as an MSP I’ve never heard such a disgraceful response, when all that was needed was compassion.
“The first £30,000 of compensation can be made, and should have been made, as a non-taxable payment. There was no need for compensation to be paid through payroll, creating tax implications and a loss of benefits for those already bullied.
“The Scottish Government, which is funding the compensation, continues to show startling hypocrisy too. The first minister has accused the UK Government of taxing the £500 bonus to health workers, when she herself is not interested in ensuring compensation payments to bullying victims are exempt from tax. This is quite unbelievable and unacceptable.”
Mr Mountain added: “The First Minister and NHS Highland need to resolve this urgently. A caring employer would have made sure that this wasn’t an issue in the first place.”