Scottish foreign aid and East Kilbride

Danida funded toilets in Parakou
Danida funded toilets in Parakou, a photo by profbury on Flickr.
One of the most recent scaremongering stories to come out of Westminster is Justine Greening’s threat to make the DFID’s employees in East Kilbride redundant: “Development Secretary Justine Greening told MPs on the international development select committee that the future of her department’s headquarters in Scotland which employed around 600 people and is worth £30 million to the East Kilbride economy, would need to be reviewed and would probably be moved if Scotland becomes a foreign country.”

While I agree that it would be odd for the rUK to keep a large part of their employees in Scotland after independence, the real question of course is whether the East Kilbride staff will be able to transfer into an equivalent job for the independent Scottish Government.

Fortunately, Humza Yousaf has promised to increase spending on aid: “With independence we will legislate to enshrine the UN’s 0.7 per cent aid target in law, effectively future-proofing the aid budget. That contrasts to the UK’s record on aid, which is one of missed targets.”

He has also promised to try to protect the jobs in East Kilbride:

The Department for International Development (DFID) currently employs just under 50% of its staff in East Kilbride.


Last month Mr Yousaf told the same committee the SNP would “look to preserve employment” for the 550 permanent and 50 contract staff who worked for DFID at Abercrombie House in East Kilbride.

It’s interesting to contemplate the details of this. If Scotland commits to spending 0.7% of GDP on foreign aid, and if we assume Scottish GDP is £27,732 per person (PDF), the yearly Scottish aid budget would be roughly £1028m.

According to Wikipedia, “[i]n 2009/10 DFID’s Gross Public Expenditure on Development was £6.65bn. Of this £3.96bn was spent on Bilateral Aid (including debt relief, humanitarian assistance and project funding) and £2.46bn was spent on Multilateral Aid (including support to the EU, World Bank, UN and other related agencies).”

The DFID seems to place the higher-paid jobs in London as a rule:

If you looked at Abercrombie House five to 10 years ago, it was dominated, probably 90+%, by corporate and transactional work. That’s changed quite a lot now. We’ve moved policy jobs, we’ve moved some of our bilateral aid programme management jobs, some research jobs; some of the multilateral work is done from there. The balance of work in East Kilbride has moved that office from what it was originally set up as—effectively a transactional and corporate support function—to one that’s much more part of the core headquarters of the Department. […]

However, although policy posts are being moved to East Kilbride, the majority of posts there are at Band B1 or below (295 out of 463). In contrast the majority of posts in the London office are at Band A2 and above (451 out of 756).

My guess is that this means that after independence, the job descriptions will change in East Kilbride. There will be more highly paid jobs, but probably fewer corporate and transactional jobs.

Of course, the UK’s aid budget is more than twice the size of what an independent Scotland will be spending, so it’s likely that we’ll need a slightly smaller foreign aid department. On the other hand, Scotland will also need many other government departments that are currently not devolved (foreign affairs, tax and benefits, etc.), so it should be easy to place enough of these jobs in East Kilbride to ensure nobody will face unemployment there as a consequence of independence, and many people will actually get a more important and better-paid role.

I really wish the Westminster politicians wouldn’t default to scaremongering so easily. Of course there’ll be changes in East Kilbride after independence, but obviously creating an independent government apparatus in Scotland will lead to more jobs in Scotland, not fewer, so why pretend these people will face redundancy when they’re more likely to get a promotion?

3 thoughts on “Scottish foreign aid and East Kilbride”

  1. Thomas, an interesting article and I broadly agree with your point, but you’re confusing per capita GDP with total GDP. The £27,732 figure quoted in the IFS report is per person, not absolute. (It is also one of the highest estimates, in htat it includes North Sea oil output on a geographic basis.) Multiplying that number by population (£27,732*5.3 million) gives £147 billion. 0.7% of the IFS estimate does indeed get you the £1028 million figure. Google gives GDP as US$216 billion (£133 billion). 0.7% of the latter would be £930 million.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I’ll correct the text to make clear that the figure is per person.

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