MSPs demand an end to bumper election windfalls for council fat cats
Holyrood's local government committee found the current system allowing chief executives to pocket tens of thousands of pounds on top of their six-figure salaries "lacks transparency".
The cross-party group also warned the windfalls could fuel public "mistrust" after amounting to £1 million in a spate of polls in recent years.
MSPs recognised the "high level of personal responsibility" in the role but were not "persuaded" payments matched "workload, responsibilities, and liabilities".
'The current systemof payments to returning officers is lacking transparency,' says Bob Dorris
The current system of payments to returning officers is lacking transparency, which could have an impact on people's views on the integrity of the system
There have been repeated calls for a shake-up, with the Electoral Reform Society Scotland warning the public would find the sums involved "quite remarkable".
The duty of returning officers is to ensure the smooth running of elections and referendums.
The role is usually taken on by council chief executives on top of their normal workload.
MSPs recommended a review form part of a forthcoming Scottish Government consultation on electoral reform.
Ms Pitcaithly was reportedly able to claim up to £13,903 for her work in recent elections
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Committee convener, the SNP MSP Bob Dorris, said: "The current system of payments to returning officers is lacking transparency, which could have an impact on people's views on the integrity of the system.
"We believe that all costs associated with elections should be processed around the principles of openness and transparency if the public are to have confidence in how our elections are run."
Last year Falkirk Council chief executive Mary Pitcaithly was reportedly able to claim up to £13,903 for her work in the Scottish Parliament election and EU referendum, in which she acted as counting officer and announced the Scotland wide result.
Ms O'Donnell last year received more than £54,000 on top of her £160,000 salary
Ms Pitcaithly, who is also convener of the Electoral Management Board for Scotland, previously told the MSPs' probe: "We are not in it for the money.
"We are committed as local authority officers at every level to making sure we man elections that, at the end of the day, we can all be proud of."
Glasgow City Council chief executive, Annemarie O'Donnell, last year received more than £54,000 on top of her £160,000 salary.
Giving evidence in November she said: "I wouldn't want to disclose what I do with my fee but what I would advise the committee is that a number of people and organisations do benefit from the returning officer fee."
Tories have previously called for the payments to be axed.
Conservative committee member and the party’s local government spokesman Graham Simpson said: “It’s plainly wrong that council bosses who are already well paid from the public purse should receive thousands extra for this. Quite simply, it should be part of the job.
“The public wouldn’t object to small payments being made, but examples have got way out of hand over the years, and now it has to end.”
An Electoral Commission spokeswoman said: “We welcome the committee’s report and look forward to contributing to any further review of how improvements can be made to the funding of returning officers.
“Our priority when considering any proposed changes will be to ensure that the independence and accountability of those responsible for delivering polls in Scotland is properly maintained.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We will take its conclusions into consideration as part of our forthcoming consultation on electoral reform, which will consider overall arrangements for elections to ensure they represent the best possible value for money."