The implementation of the Scottish Executive's relocation policy has been “flawed and inconsistent” according to the Scottish Parliament’s Audit Committee.
View the committee report
In a report out today, the Committee highlights a number of weaknesses in the Executive’s decision-making processes and emphasises that the policy is not delivering a true dispersal of jobs throughout Scotland, as originally envisaged. For example, 54% of the jobs relocated to date have gone from Edinburgh to Glasgow, while ten local authority areas did not feature on any shortlist.
In the course of its inquiry, the Committee took the unusual step of taking evidence from the Minister for Environment and Rural Development Ross Finnie, MSP. The Minister was responsible for deciding to relocate the headquarters of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).
The Committee found that the arguments put forward by the Minister did not justify the decision to relocate the organisation to Inverness . It also found that:
Committee Convener Brian Monteith MSP said:
"The principles of the Executive’s Relocation policy attracted widespread support but concerns have emerged over the way in which it has been put into practice.
"The methodology used by the Executive to decide on the relocation of organisations has proved a blunt instrument which has failed to deliver a true dispersal of jobs throughout Scotland.
"In our view, the Executive’s failure to clearly state the objectives of this policy will hinder a proper evaluation.
"In the case of Scottish Natural Heritage, the arguments put forward by the Minister did not justify its relocation to Inverness and the Committee decided that the relocation does not provide value for money.
"Many relocation reviews have dragged on for an unacceptable length of time, causing distress and uncertainty for the employees and making it difficult for organisations to plan ahead.”
As part of its recommendations the Committee concluded that, looking to the future the Executive must:
Define the objectives of the policy more clearly;
Develop a more sensitive and strategic method of identifying organisations for review;
Ensure that the process is more consistent, transparent and rapid;
Ensure that a true pattern of dispersal is achieved;
Ensure that the policy is thoroughly evaluated.
The report sets out the Committee’s findings and recommendations in relation to its inquiry into the report of the Auditor General for Scotland (AGS) entitled: “Relocation of Scottish Executive departments, agencies and NDPBs” (AGS/2006/9).
In relation to the relocation of Scottish Natural Heritage, the Minister issued a written authority, under the Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) Act 2000, to the Accountable Officer to proceed with the relocation to Inverness as, in the view of the Accountable Officer, it did not represent value for money.
This is the first time that an AGS report has dealt with expenditure that has been the subject of a Ministerial written authority. It is important to emphasise that a Ministerial written authority is a very rare event.
When a written authority is issued it is incumbent on Ministers to provide clear and compelling reasons for having taken this highly unusual step.
The Committee therefore gave very careful consideration to the evidence base for Ministers’ decision to overrule official advice and press ahead with the decision to relocate the SNH HQ in Inverness.
The Executive’s policy for the location and relocation of public sector organisations was adopted in 1999. Since then, 38 organisations have been reviewed, involving almost 4,000 public sector posts. Of these, 2,432 posts have been moved out of Edinburgh.