FIRST minister Nicola Sturgeon says the Scottish Government “fundamentally disagrees” with its UK counterparts providing Levelling Up funding to projects in devolved areas.
Earlier this month the UK Government pledged nearly £27 million in ‘Levelling Up’ funding to Shetland Islands Council’s Fair Isle ferry replacement programme – despite transport being devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
Sturgeon said the preferred course of action would be for the UK Government to instead deliver any Levelling Up funding allocated for Scotland to Holyrood.
The current Fair Isle ferry the Good Shepherd is nearing the end of her lifespan.
Local SNP councillor Robbie McGregor said at the time that delays in funding a new Fair Isle ferry was down to tight finances – “partly because Holyrood doesn’t yet control all the taxes raised in Scotland”.
The Fair Isle money came in a second round of Levelling Up funding awards, which included £177 million in grants for Scotland.
This also included restoration of Kilmarnock’s historic Palace Theatre, and regeneration in Stirling.
During first minister’s questions at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday Sturgeon was asked for her thoughts on the second round of funding.
She said the government disagreed with the UK Government funding projects in devolved areas.
“Any additional funding is welcome, but this should be devolved through the Barnett Formula, just as we were promised the EU funding would be devolved after Brexit to allow Scottish ministers and councils to make decisions about its use,” Sturgeon said.
She claimed the Levelling Up fund “overlooks Scotland’s distinct economic needs”.
The first minister also said many of Scotland’s outlying areas were overlooked – with Fair Isle perhaps being the exception.
“The evidence, I think is clear – this so-called levelling up approach means that Scotland is losing out.”
Sturgeon also said the Scottish Government would be happy to discuss the country’s remaining share of Levelling Up funding being devolved to Scotland.
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She quoted a Tory mayor of the West Midlands who said he could not understand why the money was not devolved for local decision makers – something Sturgeon said she completely agreed with.
In response a UK Government spokesperson said: “The Levelling Up Fund is investing in infrastructure that improves everyday life across the UK, spreading opportunity to historically overlooked areas.
“All projects were subject to a rigorous assessment process under robust, fair and transparent rules, with no involvement of local MPs in the selection process.”
So far nearly £350 million has been allocated to Scotland, which is above a commitment to ensure at least nine per cent of total funding goes north of the border.
A third Levelling Up funding round is also due to take place.
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