SNP ministers have been told to “up their game” after it emerged only 80 new Scottish Government jobs have been created in rural and island communities in the past five years.
Official figures show 60 posts are newly based in rural areas when compared to 2018, while a further 2o have been added in the islands.
A total of 55 of the 80 new jobs were created between September 2021 and the same month last year.
Flexible working arrangements during the Covid-19 pandemic are believed to have contributed to the rise.
The figures emerged a day after SNP leadership hopeful Humza Yousaf pledged to revive a policy of decentralising public sector jobs.
As the threat of depopulation looms over many rural areas, the SNP government has been criticised for abandoning the job dispersal policy pursued by the Labour-Lib Dem executive.
Former First Minister Lord McConnell, who faced opposition over the transfer of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) from Edinburgh to Inverness in 2006, has said he was “proud” of the policy and was “really disappointed” it was followed by a decade of centralisation under the SNP.
Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes, Mr Yousaf’s rival for the chance to succeed Nicola Sturgeon, has also been setting out her plans to help rural areas this week, focussing on tackling the affordable housing shortage.
Conservative MSP Miles Briggs obtained the latest job figures using parliamentary questions to Business Minister Ivan McKee.
They showed there were 364 directly employed government staff in rural areas in September 2018, rising to 424 by September last year.
In the islands, the number has risen from 70 to 90 in the same period.
‘Significant work remains to be done’
Mr Briggs said: “The SNP-Green government appear to be making some limited progress in ensuring their own staff are working in rural and island communities, but significant work remains to be done.
“On average they are only locating a handful of new employees to these areas each year.”
He added: “Ministers need to continue to up their game and if there was a more relentless focus on these communities, then perhaps things would finally improve for people who live there.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said it employed staff across the nation, and has a “wide range of work locations”, including in island and rural communities.
“Workforce numbers and locations are regularly reviewed to ensure that the organisation is delivering for the people of Scotland as efficiently and effectively as possible,” he said.
“The Scottish Government is committed to flexible hybrid working for our workforce, enabling staff to work from a range of settings.
“Managers are asked to establish a flexible hybrid model with their teams that ensure meets business needs are met.”