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UK Government threatens to bypass Holyrood over ‘power grab’ transport projects row

David Duguid MP



Newly elected Tory MPS 2017
David Duguid MP Newly elected Tory MPS 2017

A UK minister has threatened to bypass Holyrood and work directly with Scotland’s local authorities after criticising a “disappointing” level of engagement from the Scottish Government on transport projects.

Scotland Office minister David Duguid accused the SNP administration of leaving the country “at a standstill” and warned Scots could miss out on the benefits of £20 million of funding set aside for road and rail schemes because of the issue.

However, in what appears to be a deepening row between Scotland’s two governments, a spokesman for Scottish transport minister Graeme Dey accused the UK Government of disrespecting devolution and “engaging in a power grab”.

Scottish and UK ministers have been at odds over claims of a Westminster power grab for months, with some suggesting the £20 million made available by the UK Government for transport projects is part of a ploy to strengthen support for the Union.

Failing to engage when there is funding on the table risks leaving Scotland at a standstill.

Scotland Office minister David Duguid

Speaking at the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum on Tuesday, Mr Duguid was questioned about an upcoming report, headed by Network Rail chief Sir Peter Hendy, into how the UK’s four nations can be better connected.

Mr Duguid claimed Scottish ministers have been reluctant to use the cash, unlike their counterparts in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Missing out

He said: “To jump start some of the projects that have already been identified by Sir Peter, the Government has made £20m of development funding available for some of the road and rail schemes that the review considers crucial for cross-border connectivity.

“The lack of engagement from the Scottish Government on the Union Connectivity Review thus far is disappointing.

“The people of Scotland are set to miss out on the benefits of this £20m interim funding which could improve their day to day lives, something for which we all should be striving for.

“Failing to engage when there is funding on the table risks leaving Scotland at a standstill.

“We stand ready to work together with the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland to consider the recommendations of the UCR once they are published.”

Asked by Lib Dem MP Wendy Chamberlain, who chaired the event, if the UK Government would be willing to bypass Holyrood entirely and work directly with local authorities, Mr Duguid said there is “definitely” an opportunity for that.

Wendy Chamberlain MP.

He added: “We have seen, with the levelling up fund in particular, more direct engagement with local authorities. Not to pick out any particular local authority but I imagine they’re all getting used to the new ways of doing things.”

No consultation

A spokesman for transport minister Graeme Dey stressed that transport is devolved to Holyrood and said the Tories “should should respect that, instead of engaging in a power grab which has seen them promise much but deliver little in reality”.

“The so-called Union Connectivity Review was established without any discussion and consultation with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland,” he said.

“Scotland needs an infrastructure-led economic recovery to deliver new jobs and speed up the transition to net-zero – something the Tories are undermining with their cuts to our capital budget in the UK Spending Review for 2021-22.”

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