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MSPs cast doubt on promises of city deals in Scotland

A ‘confused and cluttered’ policy environment, opaque decision-making and a mismatch between the economic priorities of the Scottish government and Westminster mean that city deals are unlikely to have their intended impact.

These are the conclusions of a report released today by the Scottish parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee.

Called City Regions – Deal or No Deal? the report says that, while there is much to be welcomed in the policy of city region deals, as they are called in Scotland, there are a number of significant issues that need to be addressed ‘as a matter of urgency’.

One of these issues is a tension between competing objectives of the Scottish and Westminster governments. UK investments, including city region deals, are evaluated according to their contribution to ‘pure’ economic growth in terms of their gross value added (GVA). Since 2015 however the Scottish government has prioritised ‘inclusive growth’.

The report says that the often confused and cluttered policy landscape at local government, Scottish government and UK levels runs the risk of reducing the impact that can be achieved from these deals.

The committee was also critical of the way in which projects were selected as part of the city deal. Decisions about which local projects should be funded through the city deal were made in private, the report said, with little engagement with local businesses, charities or community bodies.

It calls for a clear, standardised pan-Scotland system of evaluation of projects and that all projects are subject to equality and sustainability audits.

The report also raises concerns about the capacity of some local authorities to run complex projects on this scale, and calls for a discussion on resourcing levels.

It says that the committee has a level of scepticism about some of the promises made by the city region deals, particularly in terms of the number of jobs promised, and flags up the committee’s concerns over the displacement effects of city region deals, as places outside of city region areas lose out.

It is particularly concerned about more remote rural areas across Scotland which previously benefited from European funding, and are not covered by the current city deals.

There are now three agreed city region deals across Scotland. In July 2014 the first city deal north of the border was announced for Glasgow and the Clyde Valley. Since then two further deals have been signed, in Aberdeen and Inverness and the Highlands.

A deal is expected for the Edinburgh and south east Scotland region in 2018.

Lord Duncan, parliamentary under secretary of state for Scotland, said in the report that he welcomes assurances that the ‘mosaic of Scotland is all coloured in’ by economic policies. ‘Every part of Scotland should receive the benefits irrespective of whether it’s an urban area, near an urban area or there is not an urban area at all for that,’ he said.

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