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Kate Forbes: Levelling Up Bill should not undermine Scottish ministers

Kate Forbes (Jane Barlow/PA)
Kate Forbes (Jane Barlow/PA)

Levelling-up plans from the UK Government must “respect” Scottish ministers and devolution, Scotland’s Finance Secretary has warned.

Kate Forbes has written to Neil O’Brien, the UK Government’s Levelling Up minister, to outline concerns around the lack of engagement with the Scottish Government.

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is currently going through Parliament and would aim to give local authorities the power to rejuvenate high streets and town centres.

Scotland is already earmarked to receive £212 million in funding over the next few years to “reverse the country’s geographical disparities”.

But Ms Forbes has issued a fresh warning to Westminster that the proposals should not be used to undermine Scottish devolution, as ministers get no say in how the funding is spent.

In her letter, Ms Forbes said: “We have already made clear our view that while we welcome additional funding for Scotland, it is unacceptable for the UK Government to decide how money should be spent in areas of devolved responsibility, especially without any meaningful consultation or engagement.”

The Scottish Government should be able to “decide priorities”, according to the Finance Minister.

And she stressed her belief to Mr O’Brien that part one of the Bill would require the consent of the Scottish Parliament – but stressed Scottish ministers “would not recommend” approval.

She also warned that the Bill’s proposed environmental outcome reports places risk to well-established processes around environmental protection in Scotland.

UK Government ministers, she said, would “effectively” have the powers to “override these environmental protections in Scotland”.

In concluding, she warns Mr O’Brien to “respect devolved competences”.

She said: “Respect for devolved competences is essential in drafting legislation, and the lack of effective engagement here is troubling.”

She added: “I believe our officials should discuss how to address these (concerns) and look forward to better and constructive engagement on the Bill as it progresses.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “Levelling Up is our plan for reversing geographical inequalities and radically transforming the United Kingdom.

“We will continue to work closely with the devolved governments throughout the passage of the Bill – Levelling Up can only succeed as a shared national project.”

The Bill’s White Paper respects devolution settlements, the UK Government said.