TERRY MURDEN challenges an SNP MSP’s claims that moving civil service jobs from East Kilbride to Glasgow is proof of Westminster’s failure
Among the SNP’s reasons for disliking Westminster and the Tories in particular, the claim that Scotland must leave the UK because civil service jobs are being moved out of East Kilbride to Glasgow takes some beating.
Collette Stevenson, MSP for the Lanarkshire town, has accused the UK Government of “betraying the community” by closing the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office outpost at Abercrombie House. The jobs were located there as part of the dispersal of jobs across the UK.
While the town will take a hit, the relocation of these jobs to Glasgow, just 11 miles away by road, is hardly a case of running Scotland down and causing “devastating” hardship to the 1,000 staff affected, as Ms Stevenson claims.
“The utter disregard with which Westminster holds the needs and concerns of the people of Scotland shows the urgent need for Scotland to take its future back into our hands,” declares the indignant MSP who goes on to mention “broken Brexit Britain”, as if that has anything to do with it.
Ms Stevenson needs to open her eyes and look at the bigger picture, which includes the efficient use of public buildings.
The UK government manages the biggest single property portfolio in the country, with 142,954 properties worth £179.4 billion including schools, hospitals, courts, prisons, offices and military bases. In 2021 it was estimated that the portfolio cost more than £20 billion a year to run.
The UK government’s property strategy, launched last year, aims to deliver £500 million in operating cost savings and net £500 million a year from sales which would be reinvested in the estate.
Part of this plan is to move civil servants out of London. Before Christmas the Cabinet Office confirmed that it would move 1,164 civil service roles from London to Birmingham, 120 miles away, over the next four years. The Treasury has moved staff to Darlington, 250 miles from London. Yet moving jobs from East Kilbride, half an hour up the road, is somehow against the interests of Scotland?
These jobs are not being moved just for the fun of it. Apart from spreading work around the UK, there is an imperative to seek value for money and divert resources to better purposes. The Times reports that the government sold £1.1 billion worth of land and properties in the past year which will also help to fund its target of rebuilding 500 schools, building more hospitals and upgrading 70 others, as well as switching more buildings to green energy.
Ms Stevenson would do well to ask if her government in Holyrood is doing more to cut the cost of running publicly owned buildings before turning every move by Westminster into a constitutional row.
Terry Murden held senior positions at The Sunday Times, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and The Northern Echo and is now editor of Daily Business