DAVID Cameron has announced a £500 million funding boost for Glasgow to be invested in infrastructure and job creation, including the establishment of a long-awaited rail link from the city to its airport.
With just 11 weeks until Scotland goes to the polls for the independence vote, the Prime Minister handed what is being seen as a pre-referendum sweetener to its largest city during a visit north of the Border.
He believes the UK government cash – which is conditional on a No vote – will create more than 28,000 jobs in the Glasgow area.
It emerged yesterday that the Garl (Glasgow Airport Rail Link) will be one of the first projects to benefit from the cash – almost five years after the plans were abandoned by the SNP government at the height of the recession.
Within hours of Mr Cameron’s announcement, the Scottish Government pledged to match the investment – taking the amount promised by the two rival administrations to £1 billion.
The cash injections will benefit eight local authorities in the “Glasgow City Region” – an area with a population of 1.8 million people and a key battleground in the fight for referendum votes.
The councils involved will borrow a further £130m between them to make a total Glasgow City Region Infrastructure Fund of £1.13bn.
Mr Cameron’s pledge is part of the UK government’s City Deal initiative, which is an agreement forged between the Treasury and UK city regions.
The initiative has already been rolled out in Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool, which have been granted City Deal status.
Glasgow is the first Scottish city to receive funding under the scheme.
The announcement comes in the wake of calls from the city council’s Labour leader, Gordon Matheson, for Scotland’s largest conurbation to receive City Deal money.
Westminster claimed the City Deal would lead to the creation of more than 28,000 jobs in the Glasgow area over the next 20 years and eventually generate around £1.75bn of economic growth in the city annually.
It will also provide targeted support to more than 4,000 ill or disabled people in work or looking for work, and to 15,000 young people over the next three years.
The money was promised to Glasgow on a trip to Scotland which also saw the Prime Minister address a Conservative Friends of the Union rally at the Dewars Centre in Perth last night.
Mr Cameron said it would “break my heart to see our United Kingdom broken apart”.
The Prime Minister characterised Alex Salmond as “Alex the Unready”, claiming Scotland’s First Minister has had years to prepare for independence, but was unable to answer the hard questions on currency or the cost of setting up a separate
“It’s extraordinary when you think how long Alex Salmond has planned this moment. He’s had years to think of the answers but yet with 77 days to go, you can see he is Alex the Unready – not a clue about the enormous gamble he would be taking with our nation’s future,” Mr Cameron said.
He described No voters as the “silent majority” and urged them to rise up to reject the “noisy nationalists”. He said Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland had stood together against Nazi Germany and spoke of his pride in pointing out the name of his own Scottish great, great uncle, Captain John Geddes, to European leaders when they visited a Great War memorial at the recent G7 summit.
Earlier, Mr Cameron claimed the cash earmarked for Glasgow was another good argument for keeping the UK together.
The Prime Minister said: “This shows how Glasgow can benefit from having the best of both worlds – a devolved government in Scotland and the broad shoulders of the UK government that can use its influence and resources to unlock vital investment.”
A joint statement from Mr Cameron and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: “Glasgow plans to create a £1.1bn infrastructure fund that will support projects such as the city centre-airport rail link, major improvements to the region’s roads and bus network, and the development of new employment sites.”
In all, the £1.13bn Glasgow City Region Infrastructure Fund will be used to fund 20 projects over the next 20 years.
They include £144.3m for the Glasgow Airport Rail Link, which was cancelled in 2009.
Other projects include: £9.4m on the A8 and M8; £78.3m on the Clyde Waterfront and Renfrew Riverside; £44m on the M77; and £113.9m on Govan and Clyde Waterfront regeneration.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government would match the UK government’s investment.
Ms Sturgeon said: “I can confirm that the Scottish Government will match in full the funding announced today by the UK government – a proposal which we understand consists of just £15m a year for the first five years, with future years’ funding contingent on a review at the end of the first five-year period.”
She went on to say that “the UK’s proposed £15m a year is dwarfed by the Scottish Government’s ongoing investment in Glasgow”.
She said: “Investment in the Commonwealth Games, the new Southern General Hospital, Fastlink and the Glasgow Subway improvements alone amount to a massive £1.5bn in capital spend – that is Scottish Government investment in jobs and infrastructure happening now. We have also provided capital funding of £1.1bn to Glasgow City Council since 2008.
“As well as matching the UK government funding now, we will also guarantee this funding to Glasgow when Scotland becomes independent.”
Ms Sturgeon went on to claim that the UK government had failed to extend funding to other cities north of the Border.
She said: “Unlike the UK government, we will ensure that all of Scotland’s cities can benefit as well – which is the intention of our recently announced ‘growth accelerator’ funding model.
“Indeed, it is regrettable that the UK government has offered nothing to any of Scotland’s other cities, including Danny Alexander’s home city of Inverness.”
How airport train link went off the rails
A train directly connecting Glasgow city centre to the airport first became a serious proposition in 2006, when the Scottish Government embarked on the ill-fated Glasgow Airport Rail Link (GARL).
Garl was meant to link Glasgow Central Station with Glasgow International Airport, and was scheduled for 2013 completion. There would have been four trains per hour via Paisley Gilmour Street station.
The most controversial proposal was the building of the line on a viaduct over playing fields in the Paisley St James area. However, the Strathlyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) assured residents the playing fields would be returned to their original use, with better facilities. Using a one-piece bridge design, Garl was to cross the M8 motorway and go into the airport.
In 2008, control of the project passed from SPT to Transport Scotland. Overhead work and a remodelling of Shields Junction had already taken place and a tender competition was to begin in spring 2009 to complete the project. But in September 2009, the Scottish Government scrapped the link due to public spending cuts. Finance secretary John Swinney said the government had to act to ensure its capital budget was sustainable. “To do this, we have reluctantly decided to cancel the Glasgow Airport Rail Link project,” he said. “This is a project that will include capital costs for several years, and the government has been concerned at the rise in costs associated with the project due to significantly higher estimates of the cost of the need to relocate existing infrastructure compared with the figures at the time of the legislation.”