BURIED away in last week’s Budget – and barely mentioned in the ensuing coverage – was news of “good progress” in setting up a scheme to revive Greater Glasgow’s ageing infrastructure.
Spearheaded by the city council, authorities across the Clyde valley have been compiling lists of major projects that could go ahead with funding from the Chancellor’s City Deal initiative.
The scheme was introduced in 2011 as part of the UK government’s broader devolution agenda and has allowed English cities to claw back tens of millions in tax from the Treasury to develop billion-pound infrastructure funds. These are used to pay for projects that would otherwise be beyond financial reach.
In his Autumn Statement, George Osborne confirmed intentions to extend City Deal into Scotland, and entered into talks with Glasgow and the seven other councils contiguous to the city.
A flurry of activity kicked off, with initial lists of potential projects whittled down to an intermediate selection. It is thought that consultants are now in place to evaluate the cost and benefits of these various proposals, many of which focus on transport issues such as improving the links to Glasgow Airport.
Though it didn’t get a mention in the Chancellor’s speech, the full Budget document notes that “detailed discussions” are now taking place to cement the City Deal.
It tells us that “Glasgow has identified infrastructure, strengthening the local labour market, and support for business growth as priorities, and good progress is being made in determining how best the government can support Glasgow to take forward this ambitious plan”.
From the city’s point of view, these are valid aspirations. In a submission to the Scottish Parliament in October, the local authority noted that Glasgow had the lowest employment rate of anywhere in Scotland, while underemployment was also rising faster than average.
There’s no guarantee that City Deal will meet its stated aims, but in Manchester the programme is said to have contributed more than £1.2 billion to a £2bn transport fund. Those sorts of sums would more than cover the estimated £210 million cost of the Glasgow Airport Rail Link, which was controversially axed by the Scottish Government as part of its 2009 spending cuts.
That’s one of the reasons why City Deal looks a prime candidate in falling hostage to political fortunes.
As a Labour stronghold, Glasgow City Council appears reasonably comfortable making arrangements with the UK government, where the three main parties are backing continued Union.
How this might affect thinking within an independent Scottish Government is open to debate. While there is nothing to bar Scotland from rolling out its own version of City Deal, discussion around the subject has been decidedly hushed. «