The cost to the taxpayer of Scotland's rising tide of civil servants, including spin doctors, across governments has rocketed by more than £600m in seven years.

Data seen by The Herald reveals that the staff salaries within all forms of government and quangos in Scotland has risen by over 60% from an estimated £1.010bn in 2016 to £1.623bn in 2023.

And the cost of Scottish Government civil servants is even more pronounced since 2016, when the UK voted to exit the European Union. Based on average salaries, the cost has more than doubled from £126.32m to £270.29m.

In the past year, the cost has risen by over £23m - from £247.27m.

It comes as the numbers in civil service employment, which includes UK and Scottish Government and their agencies and quangos has risen by just over 24% over the seven years from 43,050 to 53,495.

But the staffing numbers within the Scottish Government, excluding agencies such as Scottish Enterprise and Transport Scotland has soared by over 70% from 5380 to to 9175.

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Over a year the number of Scots civil servants across governments has risen by 2475 (4.85%). The headcount within the Scottish Government rose by 325 (3.67%).

The TaxPayers' Alliance pressure group said rises in civil service numbers in the past year shows that staffing are not falling following the end of Brexit negotiations and Covid emergency measures which had resulted in a spike.

They say that civil service numbers should be falling sharply but that has not been the case.

John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "With the tax burden at near-record levels, Scots are paying through the nose for the boom in public sector employment.

The Herald:

“What’s more, there is a growing sense that public services in Scotland are worse than before the hiring spree, not better.

“Only once Holyrood is honest about what the state can reasonably be expected to do can we wind down functions and scrap unnecessary jobs."

A UK Government spokesman believed that the wage costs are a proportional result of the rise in staffing and increasing inflation.

Across the UK the rise over the seven years civil service employment rose from 418,340 to 519,780 - a rise of 24.2% said to be the sharpest increase in at least 50 years.

The alliance in its own analysis found that the annual salary bill of civil servants across the UK rose by 54.8% over the seven years to £17.8bn - almost double the growth rate of nominal GDP - the measure of the total value of all goods and services produced in an economy - over the same period.

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UK civil service employment number rose by 24.2% from 418,340 to 519,780.

While successive governments have attempted to shift civil service employment out of London and into the regions - especially those that have been lagging economically - the biggest share of staffing increase since 2016 has been in London.

The total employed there increased from 78,230 to 103,735 - a rise of 33% over the seven years.

As of October, last year, the cost of the Scottish Government's growing army of spin doctors reached a record £3.7m - while plans were being made for public sector staffing costs cuts.

The cost of frontline communications staff at the Scottish Government had doubled since the SNP came to power from £1,834,164 in 2006/7, the last year of the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition administration.

The Herald: EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 24: Alex Salmond holds a press conference regarding the sexual harassment allegations made against him, at The Champany Inn Linlithgow on August 24, 2018 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images).

In 2007, the SNP became the largest party in the Scottish Parliament with 47 of 129 seats, narrowly ousting Scottish Labour with 46 seats with Alex Salmond becoming First Minister.

Since then the wages of spin have risen in almost every year under the SNP administration – starting with a £100,000 rise in its first year 2007/8 and including a spike of more than £400,000 between 2012/13 and 2013/14.

It reached £3.4m in 2020/21 and £3,739.924 in 2021/22.

The highest paid Scottish Government civil servant as of March 31, 2022, was the director general of health and social care Caroline Lamb with an annual salary of around £192,500, followed by permanent secretary John-Paul Marks on £167,500 and corporate director general Lesley Fraser on around £127,500.

In February, it emerged the Scottish Government had paid out more than £12m in the past three years paying the wages of highly paid "chief" civil servants.

These high profile executives such as Mr Marks and the chief inspector of the fire service Robert Scott.

The money was spent in paying the salaries of Chief Officers at Scottish Civil Service Pay Band level one and two. This put their salaries between £71k and £73k at level one and £93k to £95k at level two.

The figure did not include those who work for the Scottish Government on a "contingency" basis who included the likes of Jason Leitch, the national clinical director and chief medical officer Jason Leitch.

Meanwhile, there were more civil servants on the lower level of the pay spectrum, getting paid between £71k and £73k. This list includes the likes chief veterinary officer Sheila Voas and involved 39 job roles.

In 2020/21, the cost of this grouping of civil servants was £4,364,236, with this increasing by just over £100k for 2021/22 to £4,506,952. And since the middle of 2022 a total of £3,457,329 had been spent. The salary cost included remuneration, employer national insurance and pensions.

A UK Government Cabinet Office spokesman said: “As you’d expect, during temporary and exceptional events, such as the pandemic, staff numbers increased to help tackle COVID, including the world leading vaccine programme.

“We are committed to efficiency and have made nearly £8 billion in savings in the last two financial years."

The spokesman said that the Deputy Prime Minister in January this year was clear that departments will continue to make savings. 

They said the latest figures show one in five civil servants are based in London (20.1%), down from 20.7% in 2022. The spokesman said civil service employment decreased in London between 2022 and 2023.

The spokesman said that while median salaries had risen between 2016 and 2023,  this was impacted by distributional changes with proportionally less civil servants now working at the most junior grades resulting in the middle salary being more senior compared to previous years. 

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government continually monitors the cost of its operations through effective vacancy management and recruitment controls. Pay and workforce issues will continue to be linked to both the delivery of the Government’s agenda, fiscal sustainability and reform to secure the delivery of effective public services over the medium term.

“Historically, the growth in Scottish Government workforce numbers reflects factors including the addition of new powers and the need to address external challenges such as EU exit, Covid pandemic and Ukraine response.

“Our approach to public sector pay is fair and progressive with specific controls for higher earners, to help ensure that public sector pay remains affordable and delivers value for money.

“Public bodies are best placed to assess both the opportunities and action that must be taken to ensure fiscal sustainability, with budgetary allocations providing the parameters for this. In doing so, public bodies should prioritise delivering efficiency and managing pay sustainably.”