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Aberdeen council to open talks with UK Government on bypassing Holyrood on funding

Aberdeen City Council is to open talks on getting funding directly from the UK Government.
Aberdeen City Council is to open talks on getting funding directly from the UK Government.

Council bosses are to open talks with UK ministers about Westminster directly funding Aberdeen.

A bitter argument about unionism, forever bubbling under the surface in the Town House chamber, erupted yesterday afternoon as members discussed the plan.

Conservative co-leader Douglas Lumsden argued striking the deal with Westminster would be an avenue to getting a “fair deal” for the local authority, which has long been one of the lowest funded in Scotland.

The UK Government has launched proposals to deal with Scottish councils, in order to prove the benefits of the Union.

That would include providing money through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which Mr Lumsden mentioned in his motion – and would not replace the core funding settlement from the Scottish Government.

The council – by 22 votes to 19 – ruled chief executive Angela Scott should write to Scottish Secretary Alister Jack for grant funding.

Ms Scott is also to approach council umbrella body Cosla on the issue, highlighting that the authority would prefer the money bypasses Edinburgh.

Mr Lumsden updated his motion put to councillors to highlight he agreed devolution was the “settled will” of the Scottish people and that it had been “beneficial” for the country and the rest of the UK – after opponents rounded on the idea as a “attack on devolution”  last week.

He told colleagues he was “fed up” with Aberdeen being one of the lowest funded councils in Scotland, adding: “As a council we should be investigating any potential way of increasing our funding and any pot of cash we can get our hands on.

“In case anyone is not aware, there is currently a difference of opinion on how the UK structural funds should be allocated.

“We have the UK government who wants allocate funds directly to local authorities – just like the EU does at present – and you have the Scottish Government wanting to take control and manage the funds in line with its own agenda.

“So the SNP government is paying lip service to local government and it’s clear to me where we are going with this – it’s a complete power grab.”

But SNP group leader Alex Nicoll countered: “I would respectfully suggest the ‘fair share’ is an ill-thought out concept that requires some flesh on the bone.

“Please tell us today how this is actually going to work in practice?

“It’s very easy to stand there and claim we are being hard done by.

“A more cynical person might suggest, quite simply, that this is a plan to fail in order that you can once again moan at the Scottish Government.”

Liberal Democrat group leader Ian Yuill expressed disappointment the council was “refighting national political battles”.

“This is pie in the sky, suggesting the UK government should directly fund Aberdeen City Council by bypassing the Scottish Government and – more importantly – the parliament.

“It’s never going to happen for a start but it’s also a massive attack on the devolution settlement.

“Yes, the SNP government in Edinburgh does not give this council a fair deal, but the way to solve that is to change the government or its mind; not to do a deal with the UK government.”

A UK Government source previously told The P&J: ““It is nonsense to claim this undermines devolution. In fact, it is real devolution.

“As we leave the Brexit transition period and take back control of our funds, councils should have input into how it is spent.”

Last night, a Scottish Government spokeswoman said there was “no question” of any council north of the border being directly funded by Westminster.

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