Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Labour MP thinks Scotland gets "shed loads" of money

It's clearly the prevailing view amongst Labour MPs in England that Scotland gets enough Government money or "shed loads" as Rob Marris, MP for Wolverhampton South West, put it today in Treasury Questions.

If it were true I could take the criticism from him, but it's not. Scotland doesn't get shed loads just a fair share considering our circumstances. However, we need to reform the Barnett formula with a system that reflects the needs of different parts of the UK. We also need a new funding arrangement for the Scottish Parliament that includes raising more of our own money.

But if Rob Marris and his Labour colleagues were to recognise the debilitating effect the construction of the new Forth Crossing is having on the development of our transport network in Scotland perhaps they would take a more enlightened view.

We've already had the SNP refusing to consider the use of all the tools in the box which has not only created a huge amount of uncertainty about the funding of the vital new Forth crossing but has also caused fury in other parts of Scotland where they see the SNP refusing to fund their essential transport projects. I'm disappointed that the SNP has put narrow ideology ahead of the transport infrastructure needs.

The solution is actually quite simple. If the UK refuse to help fund the new crossing, despite their previous commitments to do so, and the SNP refuse to set aside their ideological opposition the UK Government should give the Scottish Parliament borrowing powers. Calman has proposed it. Everyone agrees it should happen. We just need Westminster to act - and fast. Perhaps Rob Marris might even help!

"River Forth Crossing (UK Government Assistance)

9. Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Executive on UK Government assistance for the construction of a new crossing over the River Forth. [286199]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): My right hon. Friends the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Secretary of State for Scotland met the Scottish Finance Minister in March to discuss financing for a new Forth bridge.

Willie Rennie: I warmly welcome the acceptance that the UK Government should help the Scottish Government to fund this vital new crossing, but when will the Government come forward with real new money to help to pay for the bridge? Will they also consider speedily bringing in new borrowing powers for the Scottish Government, so that they can spread the cost over a number of years, as has been proposed by the Calman commission?

Mr. Timms: I am glad to recognise the importance of the second Forth crossing, and to support the importance of its construction. Funding, however, is a devolved decision, and this is a matter for the Scottish Executive to determine. My right hon. Friends offered flexibility to help within the economic framework applying to the UK as a whole, and I hope that that flexibility will allow the project to proceed.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government will hold firm on this? Scotland already gets shedloads of extra money under the Barnett formula. It is entitled to raise its own taxes, and this Government should stand firm against this bridge, for which it wants even more money.

Mr. Timms: My hon. Friend makes a forceful point. Let me simply say that this is an important project, but it needs to be carried out within the economic framework applying to the UK as a whole. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has just set out some of the Government’s constraints and objectives in relation to the public finances over the next five years, and this decision needs to be made within that context."

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