UP to 3000 UK civil servants are to be relocated to the centre of Edinburgh in the largest office leasing deal in the Capital for over two decades.
But the move to the New Waverley development will mean the closure of tax bases in Livingston and Bathgate which currently employ over 1000 people.
Livingston SNP MP Hannah Bardell was today hoping to challenge Chancellor Philip Hammond in the Commons over the decision.
She is raising questions over whether HMRC could have breached “purdah” rules by signing the lease for the Edinburgh hub during the general election campaign, committing whichever government was elected to significant expenditure.
And she criticised the decision to go ahead with the move before MPs had had a chance to debate a report by the National Audit Office highly critical of the HMRC plan to centralise 170 offices across the UK into 13 regional hubs.
The new Edinburgh site will involve 190,000 sq ft of Grade A office space in two linked buildings close to Waverley station. Other UK government departments will have staff there, but HMRC will take the majority of the space. The offices are scheduled to be ready by 2020.
Ms Bardell said yesterday’s announcement raised grave concerns.
She said: “The National Audit Office report, released only a few days before the 2017 election purdah period, concluded there was cause for concern about the financial integrity of this and many other HMRC office moves across the UK. Specifically, it is not clear that the move to regional city centres will save money as the UK government alleges. In fact, it could well be of greater cost to the public purse.
“There has been no real and proper scrutiny of this deal, economically or otherwise, despite the numerous concerns raised about the integrity of such a deal.
“Questions are also raised around the deal being signed during the purdah period – potentially breaking the ministerial code. Despite raising this repeatedly, the UK government has remained silent and failed to return a reply.
“The Chancellor must come to parliament immediately and offer clarity over the UK government’s conduct on this deal, as well as ensuring that such a move undergoes due and proper parliamentary scrutiny before jobs are put on the line.”
HMRC said purdah guidance allowed decisions to be taken during an election campaign where not to do so would be detrimental to the national interest or wasteful of public money.
It said it had sought advice from the Cabinet Office’s propriety and ethics committee before signing the lease.
Clive Wilding, of Artisan Real Estate Investors, who are behind the New Waverley project, said the government hub would be a “natural fit for the vibrant mixed-use community we have created” and set an important precedent.