A claim that the economic spin-off from Perth gaining city status had been “squandered” has provoked a furious backlash.
Comments by MSP Murdo Fraser that the Fair City had failed to reap the predicted rewards of the restoration of the city title brought a swift response from city leaders who accused him of “talking the city down”.
Mr Fraser sparked outrage after he spoke of his disappointment that more progress had not been made on a number of fronts since city status in 2012 including jobs and transport links and said Perth was falling behind other comparable cities.
“There was a long campaign over many years to gain city status for Perth, which should have been a catalyst for driving improvements to the local economy,” said Mr Fraser.
“Sadly, this opportunity has been squandered.
“Improvements in connectivity, car parking, and the commercial environment, could all have been delivered locally, and yet we have not seen the leadership from SNP politicians that Perth requires.”
Mr Fraser backed by Councillor Alexander Stewart and MSP Liz Smith claimed Perth was a poor relation to Dundee in terms of Scottish Government funding and said there had been a failure to attract public sector jobs to Perth, citing the announcement that the permanent headquarters for the new Scottish Fire Service will be in Stirling, despite the temporary home being in Perth.
The Conservative trio claimed there had been a “lack of vision for Perth as a business, commercial and retail centre, evidenced by the withdrawal of major retailers such as Sainsbury’s and Austin Reed” and that there had been a lack of progress in improving connectivity to Perth, either by road or rail links.
They also criticised the SNP-run council for failing to improve car parking in the city, saying they had rejected calls for implementation of “pay on exit” car parks and free parking on Saturdays.
“We see neighbouring cities like Dundee and Stirling getting preferential treatment from the SNP Government in Edinburgh, but Perth is simply being forgotten about,” claimed Mr Stewart.
The dig at the record of the SNP-led council administration and the party’s record at Holyrood and Westminster brought former MP Pete Wishart, who is contesting Perth and North Perthshire, into the battle.
“I am sure the people of Perth will be absolutely appalled at the way that these Tories are talking down our fantastic city this morning,” said Mr Wishart.
“I will always stand up for this city and will continue to work to ensure that Perth remains a great place to live and do business in.
“It is the Scottish Government that has introduced the small business bonus that has assisted so many of our businesses and that has starting the dualling of the A9. It was under this SNP council that we secured our city status and it has been my campaign that has at last ensured that fair parking is being progressed
“Meanwhile, let’s look at what the Tories at Westminster have bequeathed the people of Perth. We’ve lost our Crown Post Office and, most heart-breaking of all, the rising dependence on food banks even amongst people in work, as a direct consequence of Tory welfare cuts and the rest of their austerity agenda.”
Council administration leader Ian Miller also condemned the comments saying: “The points raised do not stand up to scrutiny.
“Over recent months Perth and Kinross Council has benefitted from Scottish Government funding of £47m in direct capital grants. Our priorities are to invest in the area and infrastructure like the investment in schools at Tulloch, Kinross, Bertha Park and Invergowrie. It also included £12m for the Almondbank flood defences.”
Mr Miller rubbished other claims including the health of the retail sector, pointing out that Sainsbury’s decision not to proceed in Perth was a national decision brought about by a downturn across the country.
“The city of Perth is one of the top performing retail centres in the country and they are talking us down,” he said.
“They have nothing positive to say about Perth”.
Mr Miller also countered the statement on parking saying that a pay on exit car park would be in operation at the South Inch early next month .
“We are doing a lot of good things,” said Mr Miller.