Scottish Natural Heritage (Dispersal of Jobs)

Question Time — Scottish Executive – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 22nd January 2004.

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Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 2:30 pm, 22nd January 2004

To ask the Scottish Executive whether there has been an up-to-date estimate of the cost of the dispersal of jobs of Scottish Natural Heritage to Inverness and whether value-for-money considerations still apply. (S2O-1105)

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

Scottish Natural Heritage provided an estimate of the costs of relocating to Inverness in its project plan, which is currently under consideration. SNH also provided cost estimates for the Parliament's Finance Committee hearing on 13 January. Value-for-money considerations will apply as part of the project plan approval process.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

Is the minister aware that there have been reports that the proposed expenditure of £20 million appears to have increased to £40 million? Is he aware that the proposed dispersal appears to be deeply flawed in its financial planning, in common with the Holyrood building project? Bearing in mind the excellent record of Scottish Natural Heritage over the years, would it not be safer to reconsider the whole proposed dispersal, which appears not to be achievable with value for money?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

I do not accept that premise. I would have thought that, as a minister in the former Administration, which pursued a not dissimilar policy with regard to the relocation of public sector jobs, the member would understand that the economic benefit that will accrue can be spread throughout Scotland to communities beyond Edinburgh. That is an important consideration that drives the process.

The financial prospects are not fundamentally flawed. I have seen the press reports, but I do not recognise the figures contained therein. We will, however, ensure that value-for-money considerations are paramount in our consideration of whatever project plan for the proposed relocation comes from SNH. I assure the member that we intend to carry through the proposed relocation.

Photo of Susan Deacon Susan Deacon Labour

The minister will be aware that there is widespread support for the principle of public service jobs dispersal but, equally, there is widespread concern and criticism of the SNH decision in particular and, indeed, of other aspects of the implementation of the policy.

Is the minister also aware that many of the answers that he and other ministers have given to the Finance Committee and to parliamentary questions—to my colleague Sarah Boyack, for example—have served further to confuse rather than to clarify many of the issues involved? Does he acknowledge the extent of those concerns? Will he give a commitment to Parliament that lessons will be learned from the SNH experience and that proposals will be made to improve the decision-making process in future relocations so that we can all sign up to something that is better, fairer and more transparent in future?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

The member knows me to be sensitive to criticism. I am concerned that we take seriously decisions that we make in the Executive that impact on families and lifestyles. We take seriously our responsibilities to those staff. Since I assumed responsibility for the portfolio, I have been most flexible in my approach to the employer and to ensuring that trades union concerns about flexibility around the proposals are taken on board. To that end, I agreed the redeployment of 50 jobs from the total number that we proposed to relocate in order to accommodate those trades union concerns. I am being flexible, I am listening and I am concerned not to impose inadvertently undue obligations on existing personnel.