KATE FORBES has come under fire from Tory MPs for failing to get to grips with her figures.
Ms Forbes, Scottish finance secretary, was appearing at a session of the Scottish Affairs Committee this afternoon when she was asked about how much the Scottish Government had spent so far on city and region growth deals.
The deals are a series of projects taking place across six parts of Scotland, in partnership between the UK and Scottish Governments, with investment going in to areas such as medical research, public transport, and science.
Ms Forbes praised the operation of the deals, and said they were one example of how both governments had worked well together, but said that she was concerned that the relationship between Holyrood and Westminster was being “eroded”.
Douglas Ross, Scottish Conservatives leader and MP for Moray asked Ms Forbes how much had been spent by Holyrood on the deal so far, saying: “You said earlier you’re the person who has to balance the books in your role in the Scottish Government so can you tell us, you’ve explained to the chair the overall quantum that has been approved for the deals, how much of that money has been spent to date by the Scottish Government?”
Ms Forbes replied: “ In terms of the overall £1.9bn, I will get the specific figure but its just over £600m that has been spent in overall terms. When it comes to the investment that is being made quite clearly different projects will be at different stages…”
However Lesley Jackson, City Region and Growth Deals Policy Manager at the Scottish Government then had to clarify that £650m had been spent so far, but this was not all Scottish Government funding and it included funds from the UK Government also.
When asked again by Mr Ross about specific Scottish Government funding, Ms Forbes said: “I’d be happy to provide that beyond this meeting. I think it is quite difficult to distinguish. One of the unique elements of the city deals is all the money comes through the Scottish government, so in terms of how the money is actually allocated it all goes through the Scottish Government’s books.”
Ms Forbes was asked by Douglas Ross about claims she had made earlier that the Scottish Government had been “intentionally and specifically excluded” from the UK Government’s union connectivity review, looking at how different parts of the country could be better connected.
Ms Forbes had said earlier in the session: “Having been completely and intentionally excluded from anything to do with the union connectivity review we then get the call to say ‘let’s rubber stamp the projects that the UK Government have chosen’ and also in the same breath get criticised for not having been more involved with a process that intentionally and specifically excluded the Scottish Government.”
She had been asked by tory MP John Lamont about the Scottish Government’s lack of contribution to the review, which had been looking at improvements to the A75 and connections between Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as improvements to connections elsewhere in the UK.
Ms Forbes was asked by Mr Ross if the former Holyrood transport minister Michael Matheson had instructed Transport Scotland not to engage with the review, and if so, how could this mean the Scottish Government was excluded.
Ms Forbes replied: “On the union connectivity review, or levelling up, or shared prosperity, or take your pick of a number of different alternative UK Government funding streams, The Scottish Government has not been party, and has not been included in the process of establishing those funds or in terms of how projects will be analysed for those funds.”
The UK Government has repeatedly claimed that Holyrood ministers refused to take part in the review, and previously said Scots were being denied their share of millions to improve transport as a result.
The SNP has said the UK Government is trying to snatch power from Holyrood by attempting to invest in areas which are devolved.