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Levelling Up Fund ‘absolutely does not’ undermine devolution, say Conservatives

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross was speaking in Dumfries on Monday (Russell Cheyne/PA)
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross was speaking in Dumfries on Monday (Russell Cheyne/PA)

The UK Government’s Levelling Up Fund “absolutely does not” undermine devolution, Douglas Ross has said.

The Scottish Conservative leader was speaking on Monday as he toured the grounds of the Crichton Trust in Dumfries.

The organisation has been one of the beneficiaries of funding from the UK Government’s Community Renewal Fund.

First Ministers Questions
Douglas Ross says the scheme does not undermine devolution (Jane Barlow/PA)

SNP ministers have raised concerns that by spending money directly in Scotland, Westminster is seeking to undermine devolution.

But Mr Ross said projects that seek funding “just want the money, they want the funding, and they don’t care which government it comes from”.

He said: “Devolution is about Scotland having two governments and that’s the whole reason for having devolution, that both our governments can work together, for example, on city and region growth deals.”

A total of £190 million has gone to Scotland from the funds, the Tories said.

The UK Government investment comprises £172 million for Levelling Up Fund bids and £18 million for Community Renewal Fund bids.

Asked if local communities are more likely to receive funding if they vote Conservative, and whether that would be fair, Mr Ross pointed to SNP-led councils which had not applied to the scheme.

Mr Ross said: “We can see the results here today at the Crichton Trust and others across Scotland. Almost £190 million so far has been allocated to Scotland alone.

“But where you have SNP-run councils who won’t even bother to apply for that, then those communities can’t benefit from it.”

Mr Ross said he is “very optimistic” his party can finish ahead of Anas Sarwar’s Scottish Labour in the local elections.

Recent polling has suggested the Scottish Conservatives could slip into third place behind Mr Sarwar’s party.

But Mr Ross said: “We already are ahead of Labour, and Labour have gone backwards at every single election since devolution.”

First Ministers Questions
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar (Andy Buchanan/PA)

Asked where he stands on coalitions with other parties including Labour, Mr Ross said he is open to working with parties “who want to focus on the local priorities”.

“We’ve seen in parts of the country – for example, Aberdeen City – the Conservatives worked with who were then Labour councillors, but the Labour Party kicked them out,” Mr Ross said.

“Labour couldn’t stand councillors working with the Conservatives that turned that into the best council anywhere in the United Kingdom, yet they’re in coalition with the SNP in six councils in other parts of Scotland, so they think that’s fine.

“I don’t. I wouldn’t go into coalition in councils and our councillors wouldn’t go into council coalitions with the SNP because we know their only priority is going to be another divisive, damaging independence referendum.”

SNP MP Mhairi Black urged Scots to vote for her party to elect “SNP councillors who will work tirelessly for communities, and to cast a verdict on the Tory Government’s dire record and blatant power grab move”.

Ms Black said: “When it comes to Levelling Up funding, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove led a Brexit campaign that promised £1.5 billion a year for Scottish devolved services when the UK left the EU.

“Instead all we have heard announced is £172 million. To put that in context, for every £1 they promised they’ve given 11 pence – Scotland has been short-changed by 89%.”

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