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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 October, 2003, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
SNH staff move 'could top 40m'
SNH plaque
The majority of staff are being moved to Inverness
The cost of moving Scottish Natural Heritage's headquarters from Edinburgh to Inverness could be almost double the original estimate, it has emerged.

Consultants have predicted that the bill could top 40m, prompting fresh calls for a rethink of the proposals.

But the estimate has been dismissed as "speculation" by SNH.

Meanwhile, a union is planning to ballot its members to see if they are prepared to strike over the proposals, which would affect more than 200 staff.

The plans to transfer jobs to Inverness are part of the Scottish Executive's efforts to spread public sector jobs around the country.

Relocation expenses

A report by consultants DTZ Pieda initially suggested that the move to the Highland capital would cost about 22m.

SNH later suggested that the bill would be closer to 30m.

Now a report by Turner and Townsend has estimated that relocation expenses, redundancy payments and a new office in the Highland capital could cost the taxpayer more than 40m.

Overall costs will depend on the detail of the plan, but we do not recognise 40m as a realistic figure
Scottish Executive spokesperson
SNH chief executive Ian Jardine said this prediction did not represent the most likely scenario.

"A lower estimate was more realistic, based on current knowledge of what SNH will need," he said.

"The higher figures quoted in the media all include the total capital costs of a new building. It is unlikely that SNH would purchase a new building but would seek to agree a rental cost over a number of years.

"The true costs will not be known until the various pieces of work have been tendered and consultations with staff are complete.

"Given the work required to do that, these are not likely to emerge until around January."

Further evidence

The executive said it was standing by its policy of public sector job dispersal.

"Overall costs will depend on the detail of the plan, but we do not recognise 40m as a realistic figure," said a spokesperson.

However, Edinburgh East Labour MSP Susan Deacon, a critic of the move, said it was further evidence that the decision to move staff against their will was flawed.

David McLetchie
I am appalled that once again this government seems to care not one jot for taxpayers' money and how it is spent
David McLetchie
Scottish Tory leader
She has called on the executive to rethink the decision.

Liberal Democrat Mike Pringle, the MSP for Edinburgh South, said it was not certain that SNH would be able to rent an office in a "hotspot" like Inverness.

"If a new building is the option no-one knows what the cost will be, or what developers will hold out for," he said.

"I'm not confident that the cost will remain at 30m, and my gut feeling is that it will rise considerably."

Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie, the MSP for Edinburgh Pentlands, said: "I am appalled that once again this government seems to care not one jot for taxpayers' money and how it is spent.

"It's bad enough that SNH staff are put through emotional turmoil and faced with family upheaval, but the squandering of tens of millions of pounds only adds insult to injury."

Rising costs

Fergus Ewing, the Scottish National Party MSP for Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber, said he supported the move.

But he said: "This Labour policy has been worked out on the back of a fag packet.

"The rising costs of the SNH move are beginning to mirror the ever rising costs of that other Labour policy - the Holyrood project."

Industrial action

Meanwhile, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union said it hoped to organise an "indicative" ballot of SNH workers next week.

Albie O'Neill said: "We're planning to ask members if they would be prepared to take industrial action, before we go to an authoritative ballot.

"Industrial action would be either to strike, or take selective disruption aimed at disrupting the passage of the Nature Conservancy Bill."


WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC Scotland's Kirsten Campbell
"This uncertainty is starting to get to staff"



SEE ALSO:
SNH to keep presence in capital
13 Oct 03  |  Scotland
SNH transfer under fresh scrutiny
01 Oct 03  |  Scotland
Inquiry call over SNH move
03 Sep 03  |  Scotland
Ministers order SNH move
02 Sep 03  |  Scotland
Tribunal move over SNH switch
20 Jul 03  |  Scotland


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