Wednesday, 24 September 2003

Government jobs: where should they go?

There was a huge row when it was announced that Scottish Natural Heritage would be relocated from Edinburgh to Inverness. The same arguments have started up again after VisitScotland has said that it too may leave the capital. Remaining in Edinburgh is one of ten options being considered. It is understandable that Edinburgh politicians are against any move:
David McLetchie, Scottish Conservative leader and Edinburgh Pentlands MSP, reportedly said: "The Scottish Executive and VisitScotland will have to be a lot more convincing than they were with SNH, when they ended up having to order the body to make the move, upsetting employees, and costing the public purse tens of millions.

"No-one should under-estimate the impact and trauma such changes can have on employees and their families, and if their expertise is lost to VisitScotland as a result of this, everyone ends up a loser."

Margaret Smith, Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh West, was quoted saying: "Many people don’t want to be forced to move. If they aren’t prepared to, we end up with a diminished service."

The Edinburgh Evening News expresses its concern:
But the fact is that Edinburgh is the gateway to Scotland for the vast majority of tourists. So where exactly could be a better location for the tourism agency’s headquarters?

Despite the fact that the quango is based here, there are already concerns that VisitScotland does not give Edinburgh the attention or the funding that the city deserves.

In fact Edinburgh receives only a tiny part of VistScotland’s budget, which hardly makes sense when the industry, and indeed the Scottish economy, depends so heavily upon the city’s success.

The News suggests that VisitScotland's under support of Edinburgh may be because the city succeeds in attracting plenty of tourists without government aid. If so, that seems a reasonable policy. I am not at all convinced that tourism, or any industry for that matter, should be supported by the taxpayer. If we are to "aid" tourism, surely funds should go to parts of the country that are most in need of visitors. I am sure that taxpayers in post-industrial Lanarkshire aren't too happy at seeing their money used to attract yet more tourists to prosperous Edinburgh.

Of course Edinburgh's politicians and newspapers will speak out for their city but I think that the policy of decentralising government departments away from the capital is correct. Devolution has given Edinburgh an even larger share of Scotland's better paying jobs - just as government activity in London has boosted that city at the expense of the rest of the UK. Private sector workers constantly have to move from one part of the country to another and they rarely enjoy the benefits given in the public sector. The real solution to these relocation rows is to leave money in the pockets of taxpayers and let the market, not politicians, decide where jobs should be. I have little doubt that a privately run economy would see a far more equitable distribution of jobs throughout the country than one managed by politicians. It's no coincidence that the world's capital cities usually have the best-paid jobs.