Forbes seeks assurances over transport review spending

Scotland’s Finance Secretary is seeking assurances that spending on the recommendations of a UK Government transport review will not come from the Scottish budget.

The final report of the Union Connectivity Review was released on Friday, with the headline recommendation of creating a strategic transport network across the UK accepted by the Prime Minister.

Plans also include reducing journey times and increasing capacity on the West Coast Main Line as well as routes between Scotland and London, and conducting an assessment of the east coast road and rail corridor.

But with transport a devolved matter, Kate Forbes sought an assurance that the Scottish Government budget will not be raided to pay for the projects.

“We always seem to be invited in when it comes to rubberstamping UK Government plans, and my concerns are twofold,” she said on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme.

“Firstly, is this additional money?

“In other words, they talk about adding to Scotland’s infrastructure – is it really additional or are they just netting it off our capital budget?

“Because historically, what the UK Government has done is given Scotland funding and then we determine priorities in consultation with local authorities and communities.

“And the second point is, are these Scotland’s priorities?

“We saw the Prime Minister quite recently ditch the ridiculous idea for a bridge to Northern Ireland.

“Are we going to have sensible ideas coming from this?”

The link between Scotland and Northern Ireland, either as a bridge or a tunnel across the Irish Sea, was heavily derided in Scotland before being dropped.

Later in the BBC programme, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps sought to address Ms Forbes’ concerns, rejecting claims that some of the block grant sent to Scotland would be used to pay for the projects.

Grant Shapps leaving Downing Street
The Transport Secretary said the recommendations of the review were ‘sensible’ (James Manning/PA)

“I want to strip all the politics away from this – this is common sense, we live on the same island, folks,” he added.

“We need to be able to get goods and people around.

“I think it’s important that we have good journey times, making it easier to travel from Glasgow, Edinburgh or any other part of Scotland – more remote areas – and that means we improve our links, whether that’s by rail or road or air or indeed our maritime links around the United Kingdom.

“I think this is strictly a pretty uncontroversial, sensible thing to do.”