Compensation cash ‘would keep Rothesay court open for 20 years’

‘Exit compensation’ paid to just one departing Scottish Courts Service employee last year would have been enough to wipe out the annual saving from closing Rothesay Sheriff Court for almost 20 years, according to official figures.

The SCS annual report and accounts for 2011-12 state that the organisation paid £117,020 as ‘compensation for loss of office’ to just one member of staff during the year.

That sum dwarfs the £6,000 annual budget saving which the government body claims would be made by closing the court in Rothesay and transferring all its business to Greenock.

That estimated saving has been widely criticised by campaigners who oppose the closure of the court, who argue that the move would result in increased cost for other public agencies such as Police Scotland.

Meanwhile, the impact of improvements to Parliament House in Edinburgh, the home of the Court of Session, on the court closure programme has also been criticised.

The same set of SCS annual accounts identify a total redevelopment cost for the building of £63 million over three phases until March 2013, although the minutes of an SCS board meeting in August 2012 refer to the scope and provisional budget for a fourth phase as having been agreed.

Stuart Alexander, a community councillor in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, another town where the sheriff court is under threat of closure, said: “These flawed SCS proposals should be rejected out-of-hand and an alternative found that actually enhances justice across the whole of Scotland.”SCS chief executive Eric McQueen said: “The estimated budget of the five year Parliament House project which will complete in November 2013 was £63 million. The project is on time, operating well and forecast to come in under the estimated cost.

“In many ways Parliament House serves to demonstrate the challenges the court services faces on its capital budget. Historic and listed buildings are expensive to maintain and our plans to reduce the number of courts will allow us to focus that limited capital budget more effectively in future.

“The Scottish Court Service recommendations are made to enable us to prepare for major justice system reforms, we are also required to operate within the budget limits set by the Scottish Parliament.”