UK Treasury ‘peered down its nose’ at Scottish Government

The UK Treasury ‘peered down its nose’ at the Scottish Government during the early years of devolution by failing to offer help when it was requested, a former minister has claimed.

Andy Kerr in 2001, when he was serving as finance minister in the Labour-Lib Dem coaltion. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Andy Kerr in 2001, when he was serving as finance minister in the Labour-Lib Dem coaltion. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

In a scathing assessment of dealing with 11 Downing Street when it was occupied by fellow Labour member Gordon Brown, former Scottish finance secretary Andy Kerr said there was “zero relationship” with ministers in Edinburgh.

Mr Kerr, a cabinet member until 2007, said the then Labour-Lib Dem coalition struggled to make its voice heard in Whitehall despite a Labour Government being in power in Westminster.

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His comments were published in an interview with the Institute for Government (IFG) to mark 20 years of devolution.

Asked if negotiating with the Treasury was a big part of his job as a minister, Mr Kerr said: “No, the relationship was zero. I didn’t feel as though we had any decent relationship with the Treasury. I don’t think they treated us with any respect whatsoever.

“I don’t think I had a meaningful conversation with Gordon Brown about money in all the time I was there. When we were looking for help, we didn’t really get it.

“I remember that John Swinney, in his first few weeks of being finance secretary in the SNP-led Scottish Government, got all sorts of deals that I could never have dreamt of when I was finance minister under Labour. My view is the Treasury peered down their noses at us.”

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The sometimes rocky relationship between the UK Government and the fledgling Scottish Parliament has been a constant theme in the series of interviews with former ministers carried out by the IFG.

Lord McConnell, who served as First Minister until 2007, claimed Tony Blair missed a chance to reform how the UK cabinet operated to better reflect the creation of the devolved assemblies in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

“I thought 2003 was a significant opportunity, given that we were into the second term of the devolved Parliament, for Tony to reform the way that the British Cabinet was structured,” he said.

“I had made no secret of my belief that the role of the territorial secretary of state had had its day and that the time was right to change that.”

On the wider relationship between Holyrood and Westminster, he said: “It was mixed. It was occasionally turbulent, it was sometimes very productive. We sometimes watched with astonishment at what was going on in London, the way the Government was being run there compared to our attempt at a more disciplined and delivery focused approach.”