Watching the watchdogs

Holyrood's finance committee says it is concerned about the rising costs of a growing army of non-elected commissioners and ombudsmen.

The five commissioners and ombudsmen established since devolution are asking for a budget increase of 8.7%, more than three times the headline rate of inflation, which will increase their annual running costs from £5.5m a year to £6m. The Commissioner for Children and Young People, Professor Kathleen Marshall, has raised concerns by asking for £157,000 to fund publicity and promotion.

The steepest increase this year has been demanded by the Scottish Information Commissioner, who oversees the operation of the Freedom of Information Act. His budget is set to increase from £1,125,000 to £1,337,000 - a rise of 19% - which is due to the larger than expected volume of requests for information under FoI.

MSPs take a closer look at watchdog costs (Scotland on Sunday, 13 November 2005)

See also:
Cost of reaching for the 'tsars' revealed as £6m (The Scotsman, 16 November 2005)

Key points
• Scotland’s 'tsars' will cost taxpayers £6.4 million next year
• MSPs fear that money is being wasted on offices and staffing
• The Scottish Parliament’s corporate body has called in the Auditor General.

Key quote

"We cannot offer a blank cheque to commissioners. There has to be a context applied to what they do and some constraints applied." - John Swinney

Scotland's four commissioners - for information, appointments, standards and children - and the public service ombudsman will cost the Scottish taxpayer £6.4 million next year - almost a tenth of the parliament's total running costs. That figure will go up by another £1 million when a new "tsar", the human rights commissioner, is established under legislation which comes to Holyrood next year.

Kevin Dunion: Scottish Information Commissioner
Set up: February 2003

Budget: £1,125,000
Salary: £75,000 - £80,000;
Staff: 16
Location: Kinburn Castle, St Andrews
Achievements: Landmark rulings on David McLetchie's expenses and primary school exam results

The Scotsman's editorial for 16 November 2005 is a bit more positive about the cost of freedom of information for the people of Scotland:
"... the Freedom of Information Act has proved an invaluable democratic tool and Mr Dunion has ensured that both the Executive and the parliament are open to greater scrutiny than the politicians intended. He deserves his extra money."

Tsars must show their worth (The Scotsman, 16 November 2005 - subscription required)