Westminster is 'parking its tanks' on devolution powers, MSPs told

The UK Government is "parking its tanks" on Scottish devolution over plans to start funding areas like housing and education which fall within the remit of Holyrood, MSPs have heard.

Scottish Government trade minister Ivan McKee even accused UK ministers of an "assault" on the Scottish Parliament’s powers over controversial plans for a UK Shared Prosperity Fund. This will replace EU Structural Funds, which were worth £738 million between 2014-20 in Scotland, but have now ceased after Brexit.

UK Treasury Secretary Stephen Barclay confirmed at the weekend the UK Shared Prosperity Fund would be worth about £1.5 billion a year, but would be distributed on a UK-wide basis aimed at "levelling up" areas in most need. This means it would effectively bypass the Scottish Parliament which distributed previous EU funding.

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Mr McKee said much of the funding could be delivered by Whitehall's Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government which has "no locus" in Scotland.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday January 20, 2021. Photo by UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA Wire

"There's clearly an assault - I use that word, I think it's not unfair - on devolution and we're seeing the UK Government effectively parking their tanks on areas of devolved competence,” he told Holyrood’s Constitution committee yesterday.

The minister said he has been seeking details of the new EU replacement funding for over two years without response, while offers to work UK ministers on allocation of the new cash north of the border have been "ignored."

"This frankly is a power grab which disrespects the needs and interests of Scotland, the Scottish Government's powers and responsibilities and ignores the fact we have successfully delivered the previous EU structural funds since devolution," he added.

The Scottish Government has drawn up it’s own plans to distribute the new Shared Prosperity Fund, but it is unclear what influence this will have on how the money is spent.

"We've had little clarity as to what the fund will look like," McKee added.

"Uncertainty remains about how much of this Scotland will get, who will benefit, how the money will be allocated or how it will be disbursed."

Scotland received an average of £183 million a year from EU Structural Funds, the minister added.

"The UK Government is intent on ignoring the devolution settlement, setting side years of experience and forging ahead with its own largely unknown agenda."

The Scottish Government protested against the passage of the Internal Market Act at Westminster, claiming it would be a "power grab" on the devolved administrations.Mr McKee said: "What we warned of with that Act has come to pass with alarming speed."He referred to the fund as another "power grab", adding it "disrespects the needs and interests of Scotland, the Scottish Government's powers and responsibilities, and ignores the fact that we have successfully delivered the previous EU structural funds since devolution in partnership with local authorities, other agencies and third sector bodies, making a huge difference to communities and individuals across the country."He went on to say he has requested a meeting on 10 occasions over the past few years with UK ministers for clarity on the fund, but was only able to do so in November.

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