Transport Scotland 'ordered not to engage' with UK wide review in fresh row

A furious row has erupted after the Scottish secretary accused Transport Scotland of deliberately not engaging with a UK-wide review into transport connections.

Alister Jack tore into the SNP and accused them of blocking improvement

Facing questions at Scottish Questions in Westminster yesterday, Alister Jack told visibly shocked MPs the Cabinet secretary for transport Michael Matheson had specifically ordered staff not to support the review.

Led by Sir Peter Hendy CBE, the review will focus on improving air links, boosting road and rail for Scotland, cutting journey times to North Wales, and building a fixed link between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

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Mr Jack’s comments sparked an angry reaction from the SNP, who suggested the transport review was designed to “undermine” devolution.

Speaking in the Commons yesterday, Mr Jack said: “I am concerned that Transport Scotland have been told by the Cabinet secretary for transport Michael Matheson not to engage with the review.

“I would urge Mr Matheson to think again and make sure his officials take part.

“It cannot be in Scotland's interest for the SNP to play politics with an issue that is just so important for our economic future.”

The UK Government insists the review will work with the devolved administrations and provide “independent, honest advice”.

It is believed the review will go on ahead without Transport Scotland, with UK Government sources labelling the decision “appalling”.

One UK Government source said: “The review will look at road and rail links that will benefit Scotland and the whole UK.

“SNP ministers are putting their independence ideology before what’s good for the economy.”

The claims sparked a furious response from Mr Matheson, who suggested the review was not about improving infrastructure, but instead to undermine devolution.

A spokesperson said: “We absolutely want to see improved transport and connectivity links beyond Scotland’s borders – under any constitutional arrangements.

“But this study is clearly part of the Tory government’s wider agenda to undermine the devolution settlement across a whole range of policy areas.

“The very fact that it has been organised with virtually no consultation with the devolved administrations – despite transport having been a devolved matter since 1999 – speaks for itself.”

They explained the Scottish Government was not alone in having concerns about the scheme, with the devolved administrations jointly demanding it not “supplant the devolution settlements”.

The spokesman said: “On the review, we are still waiting for a response to the concerns set out in our join letter with the devolved administrations sent last month.

“There is a real possibility that the Tories spending money on their own priorities in Scotland will see money being salami sliced from Scotland’s budget. That is completely unacceptable to us and no doubt the vast majority of people in Scotland.

“While we will seek to engage constructively with the UK Government, we will absolutely not sign up to anything which in any way undermines the devolution settlement.

“The ball is in the UK Government’s court to prove that this is not the case, but thus far we frankly have little confidence in this process.”