The Scottish Government said it was not consulted about how the funding could be prioritised
By Bill Heaney
West Dunbartonshire Council and Scottish Government should not put the kettle on yet for the £40 million promised for regeneration by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak from the UK government’s levelling up fund.
Dame Jackie Baillie has already said it is “extremely disappointing” the UK Government did not consult more widely about plans to invest levelling up funding in seven “overlooked” towns, including Clydebank.
Her message is already coming across loud and clear that local authorities should beware of Tories bearing gifts before the ink is dry on the Downing Street press release.
They have announced that Clydebank is one of 55 towns around the UK which will each be given £20 million over a ten-year period to help regenerate high streets and tackle anti-social behaviour.
The most concerning part of that announcement is that “each town will be given £20 million over a ten-year period to help regenerate high streets and tackle anti-social behaviour”.
It says nothing about infrastructure, renovation or replacement of the town centres, shopping malls or empty shops and deserted high streets, or the ten-year period over which the regeneration will require to be done or the ten-year period during which the £20 million – seen by many sceptical observers as a Tory bribe to the electorate to vote for them at the General Election – will reach councils’ bank accounts.
In other words what has been announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is a carefully crafted piece of spin.
Greenock in Inverclyde, Irvine (North Ayrshire), Kilmarnock (East Ayrshire), Coatbridge (North Lanarkshire), Clydebank (West Dunbartonshire), Dumfries (Dumfries and Galloway) and Elgin (Moray) will receive funding which will be provided directly by the UK Government to the relevant local authority.
Michael Gove, Boris Johnston, Rishi Sunak and Dame Jackie Baillie.
Rishi Sunak said the new long-term vision for towns, backed by £1.1 billion of investment, was about putting “funding in the hands of local people” to improve their communities.
When the initial £20 million was allocated by the then Prime Minister Boris Johnston that was announced as cash on the barrel-head with no mention of “long term plans” or the “drip, drip” proposal that is now in place.
The Scottish Government said it was not consulted about how the funding could be prioritised and is not clear how the locations were identified.
A spokesperson said: “While the Scottish Government welcomes all extra funding for Scotland, it would be much better if provided to the Scottish Government via the Barnett Formula in the normal manner.
“It is extremely disappointing that we have not been consulted on how the investment could be prioritised to complement our ongoing work, and we are unclear on how the priority locations have been identified.
“We will nevertheless work with the UK Government and local authorities to ensure the impact of this investment can be properly realised.
“We have already been working with local authorities to revitalise our town centres. Scotland was the first part of the UK to make a commitment to a Town Centre Action Plan and to adopt a town centre first principle, backed by funding from our £325 million Place Based Investment Programme.”
This is basically waffle composed more for an election leaflet than for an investment announcement on levelling up.
Dame Jackie Baillie commented: “Whilst investment in our towns is always welcome, this is a clear tactic from the Tories to curry favour with Scots ahead of the next General Election.
“It is frustrating that it [the money]is being handed out randomly after West Dunbartonshire Council went through a lengthy process to apply for Levelling Up funding for Dumbarton Town Centre.
“The truth is that we are being failed by two governments, the SNP in Holyrood and the Tories in Westminster. Had we had proper investment by both governments over the years, we wouldn’t need such large sums to overhaul our failing town centres.
“Only Labour can change the fortunes of our communities moving forward.”
The UK Levelling Up Scheme is made more complicated by the fact that although both Clydebank and West Dunbartonshire are in the same local authority region, they are in different Westminster and Holyrood constituencies.
It’s a political fact of life that unless areas are represented by Conservatives then they will be made to take their place at the back of the queue for investment if a Tory government is in place at either or both Holyrood and Westminster.
Neither Dumbarton nor Clydebank – or Vale of Leven for that matter – is likely to return a Conservative at the the election.
Secretary Michael Gove said that for too long “too many of our great British towns have been overlooked and undervalued”.
He said: “We are putting this right through our Long-Term Plan For Towns backed by over £1 billion of levelling up funding.”
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack welcomed the UK Government’s Long-Term Plan For Towns.
He said: “I look forward to seeing these towns – and the communities within them – use this investment to breathe new life into the places where they live, work and play.”
The Clyde shopping centre at Clydebank, where shops are closing for good. Top of page: Dumbarton pictured from the air.