Since the decision to transfer 270 jobs was announced in February the unions have challenged ministers to explain how relocation makes sense when it will cost at least £30m and result in the loss of highly-skilled and experienced staff.
The unions, Prospect and the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, predict more than 200 staff will be made redundant and that it is highly unlikely that SNH will be able to recruit suitable replacements in Inverness. First Minister Jack McConnell has stated that he saw "no need for compulsory redundancies" and that "it [the relocation] won’t happen in a way that disrupts families".
The move has also been opposed by MSPs from all parties with 20 already having signed a motion submitted by former Cabinet Minister Sarah Boyack calling for an inquiry into the whole relocation policy.
Members of the Parliament’s finance committee have also agreed to question the Finance Minister over how decisions on the relocation have been taken. At a meeting on September 9 Fergus Ewing, the Scottish National Party finance and public services spokesperson and MSP for Inverness, said it was hard to see how the decision could have been taken if the criteria set out by the executive were actually applied.
Alan Denney, Prospect national officer, said: "We have tried for almost a year to convince Ministers that there is a better way to disperse SNH jobs to their existing 40 locations rather than this approach, which is ill-conceived and a waste of public money. Why spend tens of millions of pounds on redundancies and then recruit new staff when that money could have been spent providing real benefits to remote communities?"
Albie O’Neill, negotiations officer with PCS, repeated the call to have the decision subjected to proper scrutiny. "Since February we have been asking ministers to justify their decision. But despite their best efforts no-one has been convinced by it. Since the 1970’s we have supported and indeed led the call for the dispersal of civil service jobs, but not where this makes staff redundant, wastes public money and damages the organisation."