HC Deb 02 December 2003 vol 415 cc355-7
3. Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South) (Lab)

When he next expects to meet the Chancellor of the Exchequer to discuss his proposal to disperse civil service jobs.[140745]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling)

Scotland will continue to get its fair share of posts created by UK Departments or dispersed from London. The House may recall that last week I announced that the Inland Revenue will create 500 new jobs in a new call centre in Bathgate in premises previously occupied by Motorola.

Mr. Donohoe

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. On the Lyons review, what mechanism is being put in place to monitor performance on the transfer of jobs? Will he especially address the fact that in the west of Scotland, including Glasgow, there is a deficiency of civil service jobs? In north Ayrshire, we maintain a level of unemployment that is 1 to 1.5 per cent. above the national average, and it has been estimated that the fact that there are few civil service jobs in Ayrshire is the sole reason for that. Is he aware of that deficiency?

Mr. Darling

I am very well aware that despite the fact that we have large numbers of people in employment, there are parts of the country, including Ayrshire, in which unemployment is higher than we want and where we want to reduce it. On civil service jobs in the west of Scotland, the Ministry of Defence has a significant presence in Glasgow and on the Clyde; the Department for International Development employs 500 people in East Kilbride; the Department of Trade and Industry has offices in Glasgow and the Inland Revenue has offices in East Kilbride; and, of course, the Department for Work and Pensions has set up a new pension centre in Motherwell. I appreciate my hon. Friend's point about Ayrshire, which he has raised with me on several occasions, and when further jobs are dispersed I hope that Ayrshire will benefit. He asked about the west of Scotland, so it should be put on the record that a significant number of UK jobs are based there. I am interested to note that nationalist Members are muttering, because if they had their way, none of those jobs would be there at all.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale) (Con)

The Secretary of State will be aware that people in rural Scotland are suspicious that they are not receiving a fair deal from the Government on job dispersal. In the light of the debacle surrounding Scottish Natural Heritage, what reassurance can he give that the Government will pay more than token lip service to public service relocation commitments? When will rural Scotland get its share of the promised 20,000 jobs to be dispersed from London?

Mr. Darling

Jobs have been dispersed. The hon. Gentleman is right to the extent that rural Scotland, where there has been high unemployment, should benefit. When I was Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, jobs were dispersed to Stornoway, and the Scottish Executive have dispersed jobs to Galashiels. I shall make one point to the hon. Gentleman that he might want to bear in mind when talking to rural Scotland: under his party, given its public spending policies, there would not be such jobs to disperse in the first place.

Mr. Calum MacDonald (Western Isles) (Lab)

I acknowledge the relocation of the jobs to Stornoway that my right hon. Friend mentioned and thank him for that. When he next meets the Chancellor, will he point out that figures published last week show that the population of all the Scottish islands taken together has fallen to less than 100,000 and that it is still declining? Does he agree that those figures suggest that the Scottish islands should be a priority area for public sector job relocation for the simple fact that it will always be harder to attract private sector investment to those areas and therefore increase the number of private sector jobs?

Mr. Darling

My hon. Friend is right. Some areas, especially the western isles, have found it difficult to attract and retain jobs. The Government want to try to ensure that we have a balance. As he knows, discussions are being held to bring private sector jobs to Lewis in connection with its wind farm and we hope that they will bear fruit. Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the local council have done a great deal to encourage that. He is also right that public sector jobs could be located in not only the western isles but other Scottish islands, especially as that is easier than before because communications are better and distance is less of a factor. I would like there to be further dispersal. A lot of the work done in Stornoway by the DWP relates to the south of England and I would like such situations to happen more often. His point also applies to other islands and parts of the north and west of Scotland.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)

What plans does the Secretary of State have to disperse jobs from the Scotland Office? In his statement of 9 September, he announced a reduction in posts from 96 to 65. Can he confirm that with the 31 posts in the Advocate-General's office, there are now 96 in the Scotland Office as a whole, compared with only 69 in 2000? Why are so many needed and what plans are there to reduce them?

Mr. Darling

The Scotland Office has reduced the number from just over 100 to 65, as the hon. Gentleman said. There are no plans to disperse staff at the moment because I am trying to get them into one building to save considerable sums in renting buildings all over Scotland. They will be in one building in Melville crescent in Edinburgh. Members of staff are also in Dover house in London. That is inevitable. If there is an opportunity for individuals to be dispersed, I shall certainly bear it in mind. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will hand me a brochure for Thurso or Wick if there is a possibility of relocating some jobs there. In the spirit of being straightforward with the House, however, it is unlikely that those jobs will be dispersed—

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con)

From the right hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Mr. Darling

They may be in my constituency now, but thanks to the boundary commission they will not be there for much longer.

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