Sturgeon accuses UK Government of ‘power grab’ over transport links strategy

NICOLA Sturgeon has accused the UK Government of “an attempted power grab” over plans by Boris Johnson’s administration to roll out transport projects despite the policy area being devolved.

The union connectivity report was published by the UK Government last week and included calls to cut rail journey times and improve key roads including the A75.

But the Scottish Government has raised concerns over UK ministers bringing forward spending and policies in areas that they do not have responsibility for under the devolution settlement.

The First Minister was pressed by Scottish Conservative transport spokesperson, Graham Simpson, over the report.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon said she does “not think that there is much in the review for Scotland”.

She added: “Although we are very happy to discuss and consider what benefits there might be, there is an attempted power grab in it, to take decisions around priorities away from the Scottish ministers, with a suggestion of funding improvements on one route being dangled in front of us.

“If United Kingdom ministers really want to be helpful, why do they not just deliver the funding that is needed for infrastructure investment in line with the established budgetary mechanisms for Scotland, so that the democratically elected Scottish Parliament can determine our own spending priorities in line with the devolution settlement?”

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Mr Simpson accused the First Minister of having not read the review, added that “it does nothing that she has suggested it does”.

He pointed to comments made by SNP Transport Minister Graham Day that he would be prepared to discuss improvements to the A75 with the UK Government.

Mr Simpson added: “If the First Minister bothers to read the review, she will see that a theme throughout it is that both governments should work together.”

He claimed that “Transport Scotland officials were told to stop” working on a joint project with Westminster to bring forward plans to cut rail journey times to London to three hours.

But Ms Sturgeon rubbished the allegation.

She added: “Of course, we will discuss with the UK Government how we can get benefit from the connectivity review.

“There is no specific commitment to funding on the A75, for example. We will discuss that, but a really important thing that we have to determine is that those so-called promises are delivered in practice, because we often find that the promises do not materialise.

“The other thing that we need to check is that the funding is additional—that what the UK Government is giving us with one hand is not being taken away from us with the other hand. That very often turns out to be the case.

“We will discuss those things, and I hope that we can come to a position in which there is mutual benefit to be had.

“However, I do not think that it should be controversial, in principle, to ask why we do not just do these things in line with the devolution settlement and the established funding mechanisms instead of having a UK Government try to go over the head of the democratically elected Scottish Parliament for political reasons.”

A UK Government source said: “We stand ready to work with the Scottish Government to improve transport links across the UK for the benefit of all.”

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