COUNCIL bosses have splashed more than £627 million on exit packages for staff in the last six years.

Figures show more than 15,000 severance deals have been struck by local authorities since 2011/12.

It comes as councils warned they face a cut of £153 million for essential services next year.

Scottish Conservative local government spokesman Alexander Stewart said people would be "horrified that hundreds of millions of pounds have been used in this way".

He said: “Everyone understands the need for councils to become more efficient, and reducing the headcount in certain departments may be a way of doing that.

“But the average payout is £40,000, which means some senior staff will have been getting golden goodbyes to make the eyes water.

“In some cases contracts signed long ago may have dictated an overly-generous payment, but this is something local authorities need to clamp down on.

“There’s no point trying to make efficiency savings in one area while millions are being needlessly wasted in another.

“It’s no wonder some councils are burning through their cash reserves just to keep their head above water when this massive spend is considered.”

Figures published by Audit Scotland show that last year alone, six severance deals a day were agreed by Scotland’s 32 councils - at a cost of £78 million.

However, this represents a substantial fall from 2011/12, when golden goodbyes cost Scottish councils more than £160m.

Among those to receive big pay-offs that year was former Scottish Borders Council chief executive David Hume, who was given £318,000 when he was made redundant in August 2011.

John O’Connell, chief executive at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said the "enormous sum" spent on exit packages "truly beggars belief".

He added: "Anyone reading this story will conclude that they are in the wrong job when they see council workers are handed over £40,000 just for leaving their job.

"Public sector workers are already 10 per cent better off than those in the private sector, with better pensions and more job security.

"These golden goodbyes are a slap in the face to all hard-pressed taxpayers and should be ended immediately."

Audit Scotland's report found councils have £14.5 billion of debt, and warned some will have eaten through all their financial reserves within a couple of years.

It said £79 million in reserves was used last year for general running costs, with 10 per cent of local authority budgets spent servicing debt.

Finance secretary Derek Mackay has insisted councils' day-to-day spending will be protected in his draft Budget, unveiled earlier this month.

But Cosla - the national association of Scottish councils - argue the Government's plans represent a real-terms cut of £153 million.

It insists local authorities need an extra £545m just “to stand still” and maintain the current level of services in the face of rising demand and inflation.

Meanwhile, Holyrood officials recently warned councils face a significant challenge to fund real terms pay rises next year because of disproportionate cuts to their funding.

Local authorties have been shedding staff in recent years in a bid to cut costs, leading to more being spent on severance packages.

During last year alone, Edinburgh Council agreed pay-offs totalling £21.7m – a massive increase from the £2.8m dished out the year before.

Around 40 staff left with six-figure severance deals, with two packages worth between £250-300,000.

A Cosla spokesman said it was "wrong" to view the golden goodbyes in isolation, insisting they have to be considered "in context".

He added: "Many of them will be as a result of streamlining in line with workforce planning - as councils streamline.

"Also many will be spend-to-save departures that result in savings over the longer term."