In his belated appearance before MSPs at Holyrood, having repeatedly refused to turn up in the past, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up admitted the way cash for the Levelling Up Fund was directed was flawed. This became clear as it was revealed the regions of Scotland were given the same priority status as the City of London.
Michael Gove was grilled by MSPs on Holyrood’s Finance and Public Administration Committee on Thursday afternoon, 24th February, where Michelle Thomson, the SNP MSP for Falkirk East, accused him of failing to consult with the Scottish Government over how the allocation of the fund would impact Scotland.
He admitted the information used to make the decisions was ‘richer’ in England than it was in Scotland.
The way Westminster decided the funding was described as ‘completely unsound’ and was a result of ignoring the Scottish Government, Michelle Thomson said.
She argued areas such as Orkney, Shetland and the Highlands should have been given more priority because of their poor transport links – which were described as ‘more than lifeline services’.
Orkney SNP has expressed its disbelief after Tory Levelling Up chief, MP Michael Gove, tried to deflect blame for the snubbing of Orkney, Shetland and other Highlands & Islands constituencies in Westminster’s flawed regional funding programme.
Orkney SNP convener Robert Leslie said:
“It was astounding to see Gove’s bizarre attempt to deflect criticism where he started to talk about knowing ‘how a play is going to turn out on the basis of which character appears first’.
“We’ll have to wait until the curtain falls at the end of the allocation of these three rounds.”
Three projects in and around Inverness were funded with £20 million allocated to the Highland Council, Michael Gove said.
But bids from Orkney Council and Shetland Council were shot down by Whitehall. The City of London – one of Britain’s richest areas – did not make any applications to the fund.
Robert Leslie said:
“How this scheme was devised speaks volumes about how the Tories at Westminster think about Orkney – far away and of no consequence.
“It is time that Orkney residents realised this. It is shocking, but not surprising, that the UK Government thinks it can decide how money should be spent in areas of devolved responsibility without any meaningful consultation or engagement.
“Orkney deserves – and needs – much better recognition from Westminster. This exercise would have been more efficiently run had Holyrood been given a say in it.”
You can watch the whole meeting here: Finance and Public Administration Committee – 24 February 2022