Questions over role of Scotland Office after it emerges staff costs almost doubled under Labour

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By G.A.Ponsonby
 
A Freedom of Information (FoI) request to the Scotland Office has revealed that costs to the Scottish taxpayer for temporary office staff for the organisation almost doubled under the last Labour Government.
 
According to the SNP, figures obtained by the party show that between 2007-08 and 2009-10, costs jumped by an astonishing 99.8%, a period when Labour MP Jim Murphy was Secretary of State for Scotland.

In 2009-10 costs for temporary staff had risen to £77,727.07, dropping after Labour left office to £47,332.42.  The total cost of running the Scotland Office in 2009-10 was £7 million, which was paid out of the Scottish block grant.

The rise in staff costs followed the SNP’s historic first election victory in 2007, and has been described by SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson as “an absolute scandal”.

Commenting Mr Gibson, said:
 
“At a time when household budgets are under real pressure, revelations over how wasteful Westminster has been with taxpayers’ money are an absolute scandal.
 
“Serious questions must be asked about what temporary staff were brought in to do – and the first of those questions should be raised with Jim Murphy who allowed these costs to spiral.”

The new figures follow revelations in 2010, originally published by Newsnet Scotland, that suggested Mr Murphy may have been using the role of Secretary of State for Scotland in order to raise his own profile and promote the UK Labour party in Scotland.

In minutes of a meeting of the Joint Management Board, that took place in Dover House, London on 21 January 2009 an attendee is quoted as saying:

“The Secretary of State is still working hard to raise and maintain his public profile and has been doing well in the media so far.  He continues to look for opportunities to promote his own position and the role of the UK Government in Scotland.”

Minutes of a subsequent joint management board meeting also contained references to the then forthcoming 2010 General election campaign and quote one attendee as saying that:

“It is expected that the pace of work will quicken in the run up to the General Election”.

There was considerable speculation at the time that the Scotland Office was being used by Labour in order to campaign against the SNP, and that public money was being used for electioneering purposes.

Newsnet Scotland can also reveal that the running costs for the Scotland Office increased by a staggering 27% in 2007-2008, immediately following the election of the first SNP Government and despite having fallen in the two years previous. 

Overall staff levels also showed a significant jump with the 2007-2008 levels increasing by over 9.5% on the previous year.

The figures below show staffing level and running cost changes since 2004-2005.

Staff:

  • 2005-6 -9.6%
  • 2006-7 -3.70%
  • 2007-8 +9.50%

Running Costs:

  • 2004-5 -10.3%
  • 2005-6 -0.9%
  • 2006-7 +1.5%
  • 2007-8 +27.3%

Mr Gibson attacked the role of the Ministry, describing it as, “neither use nor ornament for some time, its very relevance is diminishing daily as the debate about Scotland constitutional future takes centre stage.” and added:
 
“It is clearly a waste of space and money, and should be abolished.”

“When it comes to efficiency, Westminster needs to take a leaf out of the Scottish Government’s book.  The SNP Government has pursued a vigorous programme of efficiency and public sector reform that is delivering results and driving improvements.
 
“The savings made in Scotland are being reinvested in the public sector to deliver frontline services or lever in new efficiencies. This is a level of delivery that wasteful Westminster should learn from.”

The Scotland Office is funded by taking money from the Scottish block grant and questions will surely be asked as to whether or not these funds have been used by successive Secretary’s of State for purposes other than intended.

The ministerial code stresses ‘ministers must not use government resources for party political purposes’.

The role of the SOS has traditionally been seen as informing the UK cabinet of peculiar Scottish circumstances and needs and putting forward the case for Scotland at cabinet discussions.

The Scotland Office itself states:

“The primary role of the Secretary of State for Scotland is to promote the devolution settlement and to act as guardian of it. He promotes partnership between the UK Government and the Scottish Government.”

However it also adds:

“The Secretary of State is responsible for maintaining close working relations with Scottish Ministers. This includes preserving the place of Scotland in the Union.”

The role of Secretary of State for Scotland is currently occupied by Lib Dem MP Michael Moore.