TWO former SNP ministers are calling for a large part of a "vast" Scottish Government building to be opened up to tech and creative businesses amid the prospect many civil servants will not return to office working.

Ivan McKee and Ben Macpherson believe making a proportion of the administration's premises at Victoria Quay in Leith would help the companies, boost economic activity in the area and save public money.

Mr McKee, pictured below, told The Herald that some 80 per cent of the space was still vacant with taxpayers continuing to paying the maintenance and energy bills.

He said that during his time as business minister he had asked officials to make 1000 spaces in the building, out its total of 3000, available for tech businesses.

The Herald:

"This is a huge government owned building in Leith," he said.

"We want the government to accelerate the plans to turnover a proportion of the Victoria Quay premises for businesses to create a hub there. It is lying empty and yet is a great asset which is completely under used and could be contributing to the local economy"

Mr McKee added that an increasing number of universities needed accommodation for growing enterprises they had set up and which had become too large for their existing offices.

"Once a business gets above half a dozen people it is too big to sit in a university and at the moment there is a real shortage of places for them to go. Dozens of small businesses could fit into [Victoria Quay]," he said.

"And to be honest, if it worked they could take over almost the whole building. There is definitely a gap there."

Mr McKee said the arrangement could be made to allow for hybrid working for the new businesses moving into the premises.

The Herald:

He added that the rationale of having a hub was that similar type of businesses would be working in the same setting, sparking networks among staff and new ideas.

The SNP MSP said the plan would probably cost about £1million to the Scottish Government with only small conversion changes needed to the building.

He said these costs would be recouped as the Scottish Government would no longer be paying heating and lighting bills for the part of the building it not longer used and it could bring in some money by charging rents to more established enterprises.

"As a plan for economic regeneration it has huge potential," he said.

Mr Macpherson, the MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, who has held a number of government roles, most recently as a minister for social security and local government, said the plan would attract strong interest from companies and individuals working in the creative and tech sectors.

The Herald:

SNP MSP Ben Macpherson.  Photo Getty.

"If it’s large footprint and capacity is not going to be fully utilised by the civil service going forward, there is strong interest in Leith about how the Victoria Quay building and wider site could be utilised for the benefit of the local economy and community," he said.

"Leith is already a vibrant SME hub of activity, particularly in the creative and technology sectors. And there is significant investment going into the Port of Leith.

"Therefore, additional, affordable creative studio space and facilities for innovators, in even part of the vast building, would likely attract strong demand from artists and companies already operating in Leith and beyond.

"The new tramline has boosted connectivity and the fact that much of Victoria Quay is currently sitting underused increasingly seems a wasted opportunity.

"I appreciate that there are security considerations but I’m sure solutions could be achieved, to even open part of the building up to new opportunities.

"The large carpark should also be better utilised, which could be used for example to assist local hotels to accommodate their guests, to potentially create a park and ride for the tram, or even turn some of the land into additional green space, which I know would be welcomed by many Leithers.

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"There are lots of possibilities. I look forward to seeing how the Scottish Government continues to consider how best to utilise Victoria Quay, for the benefit of Leith and the common good.”

Only a minority of civil servants have returned to working at the government offices at Victoria Quay and at the Pacific Quay premises in Glasgow following the work from home directive at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The shift to home or hybrid working has led to a downturn in the economy of city centres with cafes, bars restaurants and retailers all hit by lower footfall.

The trend has prompted some business organisations to call for both the Scottish and UK governments to encourage people to return to the office.

Writing in The Herald yesterday Mr McKee said he believed the working from home or hybrid trend would continue and it was up to governments to find new ways of adjusting and for the economy to benefit.

"Remote working is here to stay, a fundamental shift in working practices accelerated by the Covid pandemic. The resultant economic, social and environmental consequences are still not fully clear, with ripple effects still reverberating, but government needs to face up to this reality and proactively take steps to seize the potential economic opportunities in a range of policy areas - including around the public sector estate," he wrote.

"One thing is for sure, the countries, and communities, that can make this remote working offer in the most coherent and strategic manner will benefit from the economic boon work from home can offer – but government needs to be on the front foot, and not drift into a situation where others are more proactive and secure a stronger tax base as a consequence."

He added: "Reports of near-empty public sector office space has hit the headlines recently. Much more needs to be done proactively to utilise this space for best effect, including exiting leases or selling off redundant properties where appropriate."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government is committed to flexible hybrid working for its workforce, enabling staff to work from a range of settings.

“The estate is continuously under review to allow us to plan for affordable, inclusive, accessible, modern, secure, energy efficient buildings of the right size to meet our changing needs and net zero ambitions, as well as to ensure best value for tax payers’ money.

“The Scottish Government Core Estate Strategy includes a co-ordinated and consultative approach across the public sector when planning for the future use of government buildings that maximises co-location opportunities and available capacity.”