MSPs call for more openness over City Deals

Signing of the heads of terms of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal. Council Leader Adam McVey and Councillor Cammy Day. Picture; Greg Macvean
Signing of the heads of terms of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal. Council Leader Adam McVey and Councillor Cammy Day. Picture; Greg Macvean
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CITY Deals are “too opaque” and ministers should in future give public justification for their decisions over which projects to fund, a report by MSPs said today.

The Scottish Parliament’s local government committee said the way investment deals were currently put together led to a “lack of clarity”.

And it recommended the UK and Scottish governments, which jointly fund the packages, should publish standardised criteria on how schemes will be chosen.

Edinburgh and five surrounding authorities – East Lothian, Midlothian, West Lothian, Fife and Borders – secured a £1.1 billion City Deal last year, which included £350m for research and innovation, £140m for a new Sheriffhall roundabout, £65m for housing and £20m for a new concert hall.

But city council leader Adam McVey told the MSPs the two governments had refused funding for the tram extension.

And the committee also heard the Sheriffhall roundabout was included despite 
none of the councils proposing it.

The committee’s report, published today, said: “The committee is not convinced the process for selecting projects is currently working in the way that it should do.

“The process is too opaque, with not enough information published to explain why certain projects were chosen or otherwise.

“We recommend the joint UK Government and Scottish Government Scottish City Region Deal Delivery Group issues guidance that provides for a clear, standardised, pan-Scotland system for evaluation of projects and that, afterwards, more information is published on which projects were included and which were not, and why not.

“We also recommend there is more information publicly available on the scoring system used and who is responsible for the scoring.

“We are minded to support a principle that the scoring sheets should be made publicly available after the process too.”

The report welcomed the extra investment which City Deals bring, but said it was too early to assess their impact.

The MSPs said they had reservations and there were significant issues which needed to be addressed as a mater of urgency.

“At present, there are too many overlapping and competing initiatives and a mismatch between the objectives of local government and of the two governments.”

The committee noted: “Ministers from both governments made it very clear to the committee that despite these deals being joint initiatives, the funding for projects is still highly delineated on either reserved policy objectives or devolved policy objectives.”

And the committee urged more consultation as part of the process.

“We want to see more sustained evidence that engagement with local businesses, 
the private sector more 
generally, charities, community groups and local people is meaningful – i.e. that it helps shape deals or projects – and not just a means of informing people after decisions have been made.

“Engagement also needs to be ongoing as these deals will run for 10-20 years each.”