A new UK Government hub in Edinburgh epitomises the Prime Minister’s commitment to the union, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has said on his first visit to the completed building.
Queen Elizabeth House, which is located near Waverley Station, will become the office for approximately 3,000 UK Government workers, with civil servants from 11 departments to be based at the new building from September.
On his visit with Advocate General for Scotland Richard Keen QC and MPs Iain Stewart and David Duguid, the Secretary of State said the new site is part of a wider strategy aimed at increasing the UK Government’s visibility north of the border.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and ministers including Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Business Secretary Alok Sharma have all made visits in recent weeks.
Mr Jack told the PA news agency the increased presence of Government ministers since lockdown travel restrictions were eased is “not a knee-jerk reaction to recent opinion polls” showing growing support for Scottish independence.
He said it is instead a reaction to the sense the UK Government has “retreated a bit over the years”.
“When I became Secretary of State for Scotland, the Prime Minister and I sat down and we talked about what we wanted to see,” he said.
“One of the things we wanted to see was a greater presence of the UK Government in Scotland.
“This building exemplifies that but also we wanted to see more Cabinet ministers and UK Government ministers.”
He added: “We want those ministers who have areas of responsibility up here to be seen to be in Scotland and engaging on a regular basis.
“We talked about that at the time – we felt that maybe we had retreated a bit over the years and it was time to push forward and get UK Government ministers back in Scotland.”
Mr Jack said there has been “very close communication” between the Scottish and UK Governments during the pandemic despite some public criticism from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon about not being informed about certain decisions, such as the dropping of the “stay home” message.
“We’ve endeavoured to keep them in the loop,” he said.
“You have to remember that engagement happens on two levels: officials – civil servants – and ministers, and I think there’s been a huge amount of engagement.”
Asked about the Scottish Government’s call for the coronavirus job retention scheme to be extended for certain sectors of the economy, Mr Jack said: “The furlough scheme comes to an end at the end of October and people have to prepare for that – the nation can’t keep paying people’s wages and salaries forever – that’s just an impossible situation.”