Call for 'wholesale review' of Scottish Government's international office network

Call for 'wholesale review' of Scottish Government's international office network <i>(Image: PA)</i>
Call for 'wholesale review' of Scottish Government's international office network (Image: PA)

Angus Robertson has been urged to carry out a “wholesale review of locations, staffing and funding” of the Scottish Government's international offices.

The Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture was also asked to consider opening new outposts in Africa and South America.

Currently, there are Scottish Government offices in Beijing, Berlin, Brussels, Dublin, London, Ottawa, Paris and Washington DC.

Another is due to open in Warsaw within the next three years.

However, there are no offices in what’s known as the global south, countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

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During questions in Holyrood, the Conservative spokesman on external affairs, Donald Cameron told MSPs that the location of the Scottish Government's international offices had "been the subject of much debate, in particular, a noted absence in certain parts of the world such as the global south, which has come up in the Constitution committee."

He added: “There have also been calls for a Scottish presence in South America, a rapidly growing market for scotch whisky, and an area which saw a 66% increase in exports in 2022.

“So does the Cabinet Secretary agree that the international office network as a whole would benefit from a wholesale review of locations, staffing and funding, and will he implement such a review?”

Responding, Mr Robertson, told MSPs there was currently no plan to open any further Scottish Government international office during this parliamentary term.

He said that there were “very strong reasons to actively consider expanding the network.”

“And I think [Mr Cameron] is right to point to different parts of the world where as yet there is no Scottish Government Office.

“I'd be delighted for him to make his case further, and would very much welcome contributions from his, or indeed from any other political party in the chamber that would wish us to see expanded international networks.

“Given that I think I'm right in saying there is all party consensus that they provide excellent value for money. And do a tremendous service for Scotland internationally.”

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Earlier, Mr Cameron’s colleague, Tess White had criticised the cost of the international network.

“Given the enormous pressures on the public purse and given that ministerial portfolios are crying out for more funding, can the minister explain what metrics will be used to justify the activities and output of these offices?” she asked.

Mr Robertson said there seemed to be a “bit of a critical tone” in Ms White’s question.

“The Scottish Government's international offices measure activities, output and successes using a range of qualitative data such as feedback provided by our stakeholders, media articles, case studies, quantitative data such as social media performance and events statistics.

“Each Scottish Government International Office submits a monitoring and evaluation report for each financial year in order to monitor the officers effectiveness, which helped to ensure each office is achieving their objectives and providing value money.”

He told MSPs that offices were instrumental in delivering "real impact for our nation, our economy, inward investment jobs, market tourism, culture and much more."

The SNP minister said they accounted for just 0.02% of the governmet's overall spending plans.