Papers reveal 2003 government backing for SNH move from Edinburgh to Inverness

The papers revealed there was government backing to move jobs from Edinburgh to Inverness. Picture: Neil Hanna
The papers revealed there was government backing to move jobs from Edinburgh to Inverness. Picture: Neil Hanna
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THE Scottish Cabinet resolved to stick to a controversial policy of relocating jobs out of Edinburgh despite a major row about moving countryside quango Scottish Natural Heritage from the Capital to Inverness.

The relocation policy, designed to spread the benefits of devolution to the whole of Scotland, involved reconsidering the headquarters of any government organisations which were being set up, merged, reorganised or coming up for a lease break, with a presumption against them being based in Edinburgh. Details of the move were revealed in official papers released after being kept “secret” for 15 years.

Singer Christina Aguilera performs on stage during the 2003 MTV Europe Music Awards at Ocean Terminal on November 6, 2003.  Pic by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)

Singer Christina Aguilera performs on stage during the 2003 MTV Europe Music Awards at Ocean Terminal on November 6, 2003. Pic by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)

The decision to move SNH to Inverness was announced in March 2003, despite strong opposition from staff, unions and the quango’s own board. Inverness had been ranked last on a shortlist of five locations drawn up by consultants. In the end only 55 staff out of the 270-strong workforce opted to relocate, with 109 – many of them experts in their field – taking redundancy.

But on November 5, 2003, the then Finance Secretary Andy Kerr told the Cabinet 1200 posts had been successfully relocated so far and asked colleagues to approve a “revitalisation” of the policy.

In a paper he told them: “We have taken some difficult relocation decisions recently. We need to stand firm if we want the policy to work; and our decentralising objectives need to be more clearly expressed.

“As ministers we need to give a clear and unambiguous signal that this is a policy we believe in, that we have collective ownership of it, especially in terms of delivery, and that we see it as one of the central features of Devolved Scotland, a country in which devolution is also applied within.”

Urging a reframing of the policy, he argued efficiency and effectiveness remained important, but dispersal and decentralisation were “equally legitimate”.

He added: “The decision that SNH be relocated to Inverness realised these latter objectives. On that occasion we were willing to provide additional funding to assist in bridging the difference in costs between the cheapest and chosen options and we can consider similar arrangements in the future on a case by case 
basis.”

He said redundancies “may be unavoidable” in some cases.

The minutes of the meeting record: “The Cabinet agreed the proposals for revitalising the relocation policy and the wider dispersal aims.”

Meanwhile on a lighter note, the MTV Europe Awards held at Ocean Terminal in November 2003 were seen as a stunning achievement for Edinburgh and Scotland.

The event was the first item on the agenda at the Scottish Cabinet the following week.

Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace, chairing the meeting because Jack McConnell was in Salzburg, described it as “an outstanding success”.

Kylie Minogue, Beyoncê, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake were among the stars who appeared on the specially-constructed stage at the waterfront.

Papers for November 12 noted: “Comment from senior MTV executives had been exceptionally good and had included praise for the co-operation received from the city.”

iswanson@edinburghnews.com