The £700 million Tay Cities Deal was close to being scrapped multiple times in recent years, it has been revealed.
As it was announced the agreement is expected to be signed off by the end of this year, one of the project’s signatories revealed “tap dancing” and political infighting almost saw the deal collapse.
The deal will see a cash injection for 29 projects in Tayside and north east Fife, creating up to 6,000 jobs.
Now two years after the initial Heads of Terms agreement was signed, outlining the list of planned projects, Ellis Watson, executive chairman of The Stylist Group, Puzzler and Wild + Wolf and chairman of the cities deal regional business group, likened bickering between both the Scottish and UK governments and local politicians to sitcom Yes Minister.
The former executive chairman of DC Thomson Media said: “Knowing how close it has come, even in the 59th minute of the 11th hour, to actually falling out of bed, either partly or completely, let’s say I started this process with a lot more hair and fingernails than I have now.
“It has never come out quite how close this has come to the wheels falling off.
“To see what could have, and has nearly gone wrong, it has been really impressive to see politicians finally doing the right thing.”
Mr Watson, who will sign the deal along with the leaders of Dundee, Angus, Fife and Perth and Kinross councils, said he was glad to see everyone involved working to get the best-case scenario for the region, after a rocky start and the added challenge of coronavirus.
“Although we signed the Heads of Terms a couple of years ago now, the behind the scenes tap dancing that has gone on to keep this on track would make any script of Yes Minister seem like a boring story,” he said.
“We had both governments changing their minds, we were trying to keep the peace when we noticed Holyrood and Westminster tensions at force, both governments wanted to do the right thing but on many occasions the purpose of this was subverted.
“At the beginning I was quite ashamed of the infighting but latterly they put their colours aside to think “Team Tayside”.
“Covid-19 has done nothing but give that further challenges.
“Not only because people are working remotely, but also because the governments’ coffers are challenged in every sense, and because the projects themselves have had to change.
“A combination of those things has meant the whole project has been shaking.”
One of the biggest challenges was convincing the UK Government to provide their share of the money over 10 years, instead of the proposed 15 years.
Talks became even more fraught when local signatories considered refusing to sign the deal unless it was reduced to 10 years, due to fears inflation would price out some of the planned projects.
Mr Watson said: “It became like a game of poker – should we dig in and say we’re not signing unless it’s over 10 years, or do we go ahead in the hope they give us a last minute reprieve?
“In the end common sense prevailed which you don’t often see in national governments.
“It has given us faith that Westminster truly does understand Scotland.”
Mr Watson’s revelations came as local partners said they were looking forward to the deal being formally signed in December.
A date has yet to be confirmed but following recent government talks, it is expected ministers and local leaders will put ink to paper before the end of the year, following the UK Government’s recent spending review.
Fife Council co-leader and Tay Cities Deal joint committee chairman, David Ross, said: “We must make sure that the significant investment from all concerned delivers the maximum benefit for people and businesses across the Tay Cities Region.
“However, the announcement in the Comprehensive Spending Review relating to the compression of funding for the deal from 15 to 10 years is welcome and means that we are now at the point where it can be signed.
“The deal will deliver significant long-term benefits for the area and forms an important part of our plans to improve economic outcomes for everyone, reduce poverty and develop a fairer Tay Cities region.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government has long been ready to sign the Tay Deal and look forward to doing so soon.
“We remain committed to signing as soon as possible so the people of Tayside can start benefitting from this important investment.”
The Tay Cities Deal – What do we know so far?
It has been two years since the Heads of Terms agreement for the Tay Cities Region Deal was signed, heralding the start of a 10-year funding programme.
There will be 29 projects funded in the £700 million deal, with £300m from the governments and £400m of private investment.
Subject to the approval of business cases, planned projects include:
- £20m to support the delivery of the Tay Cities Skills and Employability Development Programme to deliver fair work.
- £8.1m investment in the Aviation Academy for Scotland, a Tayside-wide partnership project aimed at providing specialist training and skills.
- £25m to build on the international reputation of drug discovery research.
- £62m to the the Invergowrie-based James Hutton Institute.
- £11.7m for the development of the Cyber Security Centre of Excellence.
- £37m to support a regional culture and tourism investment programme.
- Up to £10m for the Perth City Transformation project.
- £10m of investment in high value manufacturing, including £2m to establish the Tay Cities Engineering Partnership.
- £3m into Studio Dundee, an entrepreneurial hub on Dundee’s waterfront.
- Investment in the Eden Campus of St Andrews University including a primary substation power upgrade at the site, up to £13.5 million for the Scottish Centre for Clean Energy Storage and Conversion and up to £4 million for the Eden Enterprise Hub
- Up to £5.2m to support development of the world’s first advanced plastic reprocessing facility in the region.
- £2m to support 5G testbeds and trials.
- £1m for digital connectivity in rural Angus.
- £3.5m investment in a low carbon and active travel transport hub.
- £15m for a Perth bus and rail interchange project.
- £9.5m investment in and around Dundee Airport.