The Scottish Government aims for the international office network in Berlin, Washington, Paris, Beijing, Dublin and Ottawa and Brussels is to “strengthen Scotland’s international relationships”. But the high salaries of senior staff have raised questions about the Scottish Government’s use of public money in relation to whether the overseas offices are value for money for the Scottish taxpayer.
Figures revealed in an FOI request showed the SNP-led Scottish Government spends up to £103,495 and £83,233 per year on a Director and Deputy Director to manage the Brussels overseas office.
The lower end of the salary bracket is £95,930 for a director and £77,340 for a deputy director.
Ministers have also recently launched a recruitment drive for policy staff for their Brussels office.
One recent position for an Environment and Transport policy adviser involves providing “forward intelligence on emerging EU law to support Scotland based policy teams and Ministers.”
Another description of a policy adviser, says: “You will take up the post at a challenging time as Scotland feels the full impact of the loss of EU membership, now as part of a third country.”
A recent Business Plan for Scotland House Brussels which senior staff are responsible for implementing also showed Ministers wanted to “promote understanding around discussions on Scotland’s constitutional future” to European neighbours.
Donald Cameron MSP, Scottish Conservative external affairs spokesperson, said: “As ever, there are serious questions for the SNP about their use of public money
“The SNP government need to focus 100% on using all resources for economic recovery from the pandemic, getting young people’s education back on track and supporting Scotland’s NHS at its time of greatest need.
“Hardworking taxpayers will expect any overseas spending to attract investment and drive trade — not to fuel division.”
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Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, Scottish Lib Dems leader, said: “This will come as a slap in the face to public sector employees working their socks off for a fraction of these eye-watering salaries.
“I’m all for good relationships with Brussels but this feels like a vanity project for the SNP and quite possibly a taxpayer-funded staging post on their path to independence.”
Scottish Tory chief whip Stephen Kerr previously wrote a letter to former Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab about the SNP’s decision to open the offices earlier this year.
In the letter, the Central Scotland MSP requested that the UK Government remind First Minister Nicola Sturgeon “of the missions and embassies provided by the UK Government.”
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The findings come as the Scottish Parliament’s Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee launched an inquiry into the Scottish Government’s external affairs policy.
MSPs will scrutinize whether the Scottish Government’s budget for external affairs will deliver value for money, with the overseas office scheme set to cost £8m in the 2021/22 financial year.
The inquiry will also examine how Nationalist ministers should engage with the European Union and the rest of the world following the UK’s departure from the EU.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scotland’s international network attracts investment and creates domestic opportunities and benefits for the people of Scotland.
“The role of Scotland House Brussels is even more important in the wake of Brexit and the damage it is causing to our economy, jobs and trade – and in supporting a green recovery from the pandemic.
“Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, the work to attract investment by our offices both at home and overseas has helped increase foreign direct investment into Scotland by 6% in 2020, compared to a 12% fall across the UK as a whole.”