With just over a week at the time of writing to go before the Holyrood election, Westminster is itself in a flux as it seeks to get its own outstanding legislation across the line ahead of ‘prorogation’ and the upcoming state opening of Parliament.
Last week was a particularly busy one for me in the Chamber, where I was involved in the passage of the Finance Bill. While it’s the bill we have, it’s not the one I would argue in some respects that we need, given the continuing threat of ‘cliff edges’ when it comes to furlough, self-employed support and the ending of the Universal Credit uplift.
My week began with Housing, Communities and Local Government questions, where I took the chance to ask about the UK Government’s much-vaunted ‘levelling-up’ fund. The £4.8bn fund aims to “support town centre and high street regeneration, local transport projects, and cultural and heritage assets.”
The fund was, during the passage of the UK’s ‘Internal Market Bill’ power grab on devolution, cited as an example of how the UK Government would henceforth be able to ‘bypass’ the Scottish Government and to deliver funds directly to local authorities. The political glee in some quarters at the constitutional significance of this was, not to put too fine a point on it, rather poorly disguised.
While I never doubted the determination of the UK Government to retrench devolved powers to the centre, not did I have the slightest faith that the North East of Scotland would, despite the twin impact of Brexit and the North Sea downturn on our economy, see any worthwhile benefit from this fund. With the launch of the fund prospectus putting Aberdeenshire in the lowest priority category for receiving support, my cynicism was clearly well-founded.
It’s not just the North East of Scotland that has a legitimate complaint. Out of 93 English regions placed in the top priority group to receive money, some 31 of those have been included while not being ranked as in the top third most deprived places.
Given the lack of objective criteria, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the UK Government has decided to allocate this money not where it is most needed, but where it considers it will have the most impact politically. Bluntly, that’s the politics of the pork-barrel rather than the actions of sharing prosperity, and it’s something which people all across the UK are entitled to feel short-changed about.
This week has also been a week of reopening further restrictions ease. The new ‘check-in’ app from the Scottish Government allows businesses to help customers register their contact details quickly, safely and securely.
Over one million people in Scotland are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19 having had both injections - a figure which equates to nearly 25% of Scotland’s adult population. While the continued progress and the impact it is having on infection levels is very encouraging, it is still important to continue to follow the restrictions which remain in place as we slowly and sustainably return to normality.