City Regions: Deal or No Deal?

Today we debated the important subject of City Deals.

The Local Government and Communities Committee, of which I am a member, has spent some time investigating City Deals. It came about because of concerns from myself and the convener regarding the Glasgow City Deal and the way it has been run so far.

We believe the system of choosing projects is top-down and doesn’t engage with local people.  We think there should be a better system for evaluating projects and that, afterwards, more information is published on which projects were included and which were not, and why not.  We want to see more evidence that engagement with local businesses, the private sector more generally, charities, community groups and local people is meaningful

We should be absolutely certain that spending money on one project in one area will not be to the detriment of another area. In that respect, we welcome Audit Scotland's forthcoming work in the area of governance and accountability.

The committee was concerned that there are artificial barriers created by government criteria, which means some worthy projects may be barred.  I’ve been involved in one such project to create an off-road outdoor cycle training centre next to the Clyde.  You would struggle to argue that it would deliver the strict economic growth asked for by the Treasury but it would regenerate the riverside and be of great benefit  to the local community – especially youngsters –  which will hopefully encourage them to get fit in a safe environment.

One of the criticisms around the Glasgow deal has been that councils have used it to dust down projects which have been on their shelves, sometimes for decades.  One, the Cathkin Relief Road – has been built.  It is a mile long and cost around £19 million.  I attended the opening a year ago. Keith Brown called it a “landmark day” and not just because I was there. He – and others – claimed it was “set to improve local access to employment”.  I am afraid that’s just not true.  This is one of a number of road projects that have been thrown into the mix just because there is money around.

The £62 million Stewartfield Way in East Kilbride is another one. Luckily this upgrade to a dual carriageway has not been started. There is no justification for it.  When I was a councillor there a comprehensive traffic survey was carried out to see if there was a need for this and other roads in the town.  The results have yet to be published.

Then there is the plan in North Lanarkshire for a so-called relief road to link Holytown to Eurocentral, the effect of which will be to increase the amount of traffic going through Holytown.

It is good that the councils in the Glasgow deal accept the need to review things but they should be open and honest.  City Deals are good but if a website doesn’t even have minutes of meetings then something has to change.  Our inquiry shone a light on the good and the could-do-better.  If our recommendations are accepted then all of Scotland can benefit.

You can watch my full speech above.