THE Scottish Government rubber-stamped civil service redundancy packages worth £18million last year, it has emerged.
Two top officials left with golden goodbyes amounting to more than £250,000 and 29 received a six-figure package, according to official Government accounts for the 2012/13 financial year.
Details of the severance, early retirement and voluntary redundancy deals emerged as the row over a £300,000 payoff for former Historic Scotland chief executive Ruth Parsons, 51, reached Holyrood.
Pressed during First Minister's Questions, Alex Salmond defended the controversial deal in the face of criticism from Scots Tories' leader Ruth Davidson.
Official figures highlighted by the Conservatives showed 461 civil servants received packages worth £18m.
They included 22 who received between £100,000 and £150,000; four who left with up to £200,000; and one who received up to £250,000.
A further 95 received between £50,000 and £100,000, while 160 received between £25,000 and £50,000.
The figures, which do not include basic pension costs, were significantly lower than the previous year, when 964 officials shared in golden goodbyes worth £38m.
In 2010/11, more than £50m went to over 1000 officials.
Ms Davidson highlighted the latest figures following the row over Ms Parsons' £290,000 exit package after 30 months in charge of Historic Scotland, a period that included allegations by staff of bullying.
She said the payoff was a "huge amount" and claimed, under Scottish Government rules, ministers should have stepped in because Ms Parsons' departure was a "high profile" case.
She said: "Since the taxpayer is footing the bill for this six-figure golden goodbye they are entitled to some straight answers as to who was involved in signing off this financial package.
"These types of payments have cost the Scottish Government £56m in just the past two years alone, yet the First Minister seems to think giving someone more than three times their annual salary is somehow acceptable.
"Hard-working families across Scotland will be appalled that Alex Salmond has such a flagrant disregard for spending taxpayers' cash."
She added: "It is hard to understand that such a lucrative deal was signed off without Alex Salmond or any of his ministers having approved it."
Official guidelines state that ministerial clearance for payoffs must be obtained "as and when appropriate, including in relation to any potentially high profile cases".
Mr Salmond insisted it would not have been appropriate for ministers to "intervene politically" in the case.
He also stressed the payoff was not just in recognition of career civil servant Ms Parson's 30-month spell at Historic Scotland.
He said: "My understanding is she had worked for a generation within the civil service," he told Parliament.
"You don't just look at these circumstances, necessarily, at the latest posting.
"That is why these decisions are best done in best personnel practice."
Including all public sector workers, the Scottish Government has spent nearly £1billion on staff severance deals since 2007. The sum included payoffs to more than 47,000 workers in councils, NHS boards, quangos, government departments and other bodies.