to SOCIAL/ECONOMIC/POLITICAL Homepage
waste of public money
on relocation of SNH
Teviot Scientific, Cultybraggan Farm, Comrie,
Filed 06 Jun 06
While I wait for the response from Scottish Natural
Heritage (SNH) to my request for information about the serious decline
of trout fishing at Loch Leven (which is understood to be under
their management as part of a National Nature Reserve) (1),
I am minded to reflect on the profligate waste of public money spent
on SNH housekeeping and administration by the Scottish Executive,
this quango's boss.
The Scottish Executive adopted a policy
whereby it wanted to see
"the benefits of devolution spread
over the country".
To this superficially commendable, but nevertheless
ideological, end they decreed that certain government offices and
quangos should be relocated - some to Inverness, some to Glasgow
and others no doubt somewhere else. SNH was ordered in 2003 to relocate to
So what happened?
"We're not going there!"
said the vast majority of the Edinburgh HQ staff.
But their threatened strike was avoided by the
Scottish Executive awarding them outrageously favourable terms if
they would be so good as to oblige.
Now the Scottish Executive
has decided to buy the new building in Inverness, constructed specifically
to house the new HQ for SNH and possibly to share it with another
Scottish Executive quango, The Deer Commission. The cost is £17million.
Deputy Scottish Environment Minister, Rhona Brankin,
"this will save the taxpayer nearly £4million
over 30 years when compared to paying rent".
But even if she was right about the projected
saving, just look at the profligate spending in the first place
- all in the attempt to fulfill this particular piece of Scottish
Executive ideology. Just look at the attitude of the civil service
staff that are supposed to occupy this fancy new building, which
in itself is another piece of ideology. All this against a background
of a very troubled rural economy, witnessed by the massive exodus
of the skilled workforce from businesses based on land management
on account of economic and political constraints.
The description by Rhona Brankin of the new SNH
HQ in Inverness - with its pretentious title of 'Great Glen House'
"an example of sustainable development
that sets the highest standards for 21st century property procurement"
has a sour ring to it. One is reminded of that
other ideological project that has cost the taxpayer so very dear
at £435million and still rising - the New Parliament building.
It likewise has brought much ridicule upon the civil servants who
were responsible for it and the politicians who condoned it.
One is also reminded of the image that the People
TOO magazine 'Fresh Air' had - back in 2003 - for the future relocation
of SNH (2). It had in mind something
much more economical, but which - with remarkable foresight - accurately
reflected some of SEERAD's thinking in terms of what subsequently
emerged within the 18 options of the Land Management Contracts offered
to farmers to try and get at least some of their CAP subsidy money
back, that had been taken away from them through a device known
as 'modulation' (3).
So far only 56 of the 270 staff at SNH HQ
have decided to make the move from the Capital to the Highlands.
And there is a £7million redundancy bill to be paid to those
who have refused. There was no redundancy payments for those who
had to give up farming - tough, they just had to find other jobs.
After all, does SEERAD actually care about farming when they have
dropped it from the name of their department, while some 85% of
the land in Scotland is under some form of agriculture?
£17million for the building,
plus £7million for redundancy payments,
divided by 56
means that to date it has cost the taxpayer some
£500,000 for each member of SNH HQ staff
who has agreed to move to Inverness -
and SNH apparently still has its Edinburgh offices
If the waste of money on SNH bricks and mortar,
and massive redundancy payments for those who refuse to move, is
not bad enough, SNH Chief Executive, Ian Jardine, has warned that
"there is a risk to the organisation in
having lost a lot of experience".
One might add
"Such as it was".
So what is really wrong with SNH?
SNH is supposed to be interested in matters rural.
So why are so many of its employees so unwilling to live close to
some of the best scenery and rural pursuits in the land?
The fact is that SNH is sadly lacking in people
with direct experience and competent training in the practical aspects
of land management. SNH is full of geographers and zoologists of
one kind or another, very few of whom have had any significant training
or experience in the science of land management, concentrating on
political sociology, the minutiae of ecology and the conservation
of single species that attract the public's eye. Witness the lectures
given at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, sponsored by SNH - no where
will you find anyone speaking who has a credible knowledge of practical
The Scottish universities - and no doubt English
ones as well - run courses leading to prestigious sounding degrees
in land management without any input whatsoever of any agricultural
science. A degree in geography these days can mean anything from
a social study in the Faculty of Arts and Social Science to a study
in some esoteric aspect of evolution that has damn all relevance
to land management. Why should the universities care? It is bums
on seats and fees that are now needed as far as they are concerned;
and, of course, keeping sweet with the Scottish Executive for other
aspects of the all important struggle for funding.
The other day I came across a recent honours zoology
graduate who claimed to have specialised in animal welfare in her
honours course, at a university that used to be held in high repute.
I was staggered by the ineptness of the answers to the most simple
of questions. Perhaps one should not be surprised as there was no
veterinary input, no visit ever to a farm but a project so esoteric
that one wondered what its value was, if any - even to academia.
Yet, if the degree awarded - within the 60 odd that were pursuing
the final honours year that she had just completed - was of reasonable
grade (does anyone fail?) it might well be enough to facilitate
fast-tracking into the civil service with job security, an alleged
tolerance of convenient "sick leave", a pension that is
likely to be better both in value and protection than most, and
of course a salary well above what might be expected in the private
sector where she might be unemployable - at least in the form to
which she had been lead to expect she should become accustomed.
Moreover, she would no doubt soon be able to boss those about who
do actually work on the land in terms of what to do and even how
to do it!
About 10 of the 60 in this girl's honours year
would be expected to get a first class honours degree. But further
inquiry revealed that allegedly most of the course was taken up
writing essays that were marked anonymously - presumably to be politically
correct by avoiding personal favouritism. There being but few lectures,
it would appear that the contact the honours students had with staff
- so important I would have thought in developing the minds of young
students - must have been almost zilch. Such is the success of this
productivity belt for university funds, the staff are threatening
to go on strike for more pay, while the standard of the degree plummets.
Yet Ross Finnie, Scottish Executive Minister for
the Environment and Rural Affairs (SEERAD), has the cheek to reprimand
some 75 % of farmers in Scotland for not being efficient enough
(4), when they already are among
the most efficient in his beloved Europe.
If their experience with SNH was not enough for
the Scottish Executive to learn its lesson, lo and behold the Scottish
Executive now wants to force its sports organisation, SportScotland,
to move away from Edinburgh over to Glasgow. Scotland has recently
being doing rather well in sports - at least at the Commonwealth
Games. With their continued pursuit of their ideological beliefs,
will the Scottish Executive be equally spendthrift with SportScotland
as it has been with SNH, and will they be equally successful in
disrupting it at such huge expense?
What a mess!
But now I will get back to wondering what
SNH will have to say about these 700 cormorants on Loch Leven, allegedly
eating over the winter months the equivalent of the total annual
replacement stock, so that this famous fishing loch can no longer
sustain a loss of £80,000 per annum.
1. Irvine, James (2006). Protected
cormorants blamed for the demise of trout fishing on Loch Leven,
under the management of SNH
See ENVIRONMENT Homepage, filed 04 Jun 06, www.land-care.org.uk
Here to View
2. Editorial (2003). SNH's new
Fresh Air. Reproduced here with kind permission
See LIGHT RELIEF Homepage, filed 2003, www.land-care.org.uk
Here to View
3. Editorial (2005). Land Management
Contracts - a joke if they were not so sad.
See SOCIAL/ECONOMIC/POLITICAL Homepage, filed 28 Feb 05,
Here to View
4. Irvine, James (2005). Review.
SAC conference: "Benefiting from change". Murrayfield
Stadium, Edinburgh 16h November 2004
See SOCIAL/ECONOMIC/POLITICAL Homepage, filed 23 Jan 05,
Here to View