Michael Gove has called on the Scottish Government to produce an itemised list of Brexit preparedness spending after hearing “one or two voices of concern” about how money passed on from Westminster has been used.
The Cabinet Office minister told Holyrood’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee that questions had been raised by business leaders over what the Scottish Government has done with the cash.
In response to a question by Conservative MSP Oliver Mundell, Mr Gove said the UK Government had supplied just shy of £200 million for Brexit preparations but stressed the “key thing is that there has to be accountability for how that money is spent”.
Mr Mundell said there is a concern that in order to make the process of leaving the European Union appear as disruptive as possible the Scottish Government “might not be passing that money on to businesses and local authorities, and might be putting off some of the preparations that we know will be needed whatever the future trading relationship is”.
‘They should be accountable to the Scottish people’
Mr Gove said he respected the devolution settlement and does not believe it is his place to tell constitution secretary Mike Russell, or any other Scottish minister, how the money should be spent.
“But they should be accountable to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people for how it’s spent,” Mr Gove said. “The National Audit Office audits the UK Government and quite rightly asks questions about expenditure.
“I think that Mike and other Scottish Government ministers should present an itemised account of exactly how that money has been spent, because, like you, I’ve heard one or two voices of concern from some in business.
“I’m sure that the Scottish Government would be able to allay those concerns if they were fully transparent about that expenditure.”
UK ‘built on solidarity’
Mr Gove told MSPs he tried to avoid “pitting parts of the UK against each other” after being challenged on why Scotland had not been given a population share of funding, instead receiving just half of the £400 million made available to Northern Ireland.
Scotland would be entitled to £1.4 billion if the Brexit preparedness cash had been issued based on population, SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson said.
Despite appearing to reject the idea of allocating more money for Scotland, Mr Gove said the decision will be kept “under review” and stressed the UK Government wanted to help countries within the union that had faced “challenges” in the past.
“Pitting one part of the United Kingdom by saying it’s not fair that Northern Ireland benefits… that’s not the sort of thing that I’m terribly keen on,” Mr Gove said.
“My view is that the United Kingdom is built on solidarity and sharing, and that the United Kingdom benefits from the fact that those parts of the UK that may have had a tougher time in the past, we stand by and we support.
“That’s one of the reasons why, from Lanarkshire to Larne, the UK Government spends the money that it does – because we want to show solidarity with those who may have endured whether it was deindustrialisation in the past or other challenges.”
‘Fair and equitable level of funds’
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said any suggestion of a lack of transparency is “entirely inaccurate” and the Scottish Budget is published annually online.
She said consequential funding derived from UK Government Brexit preparations had been absorbed into the Budget and “used in line with Scottish priorities” to support a “vast range of preparatory work involving virtually every public body in Scotland, including every local authority”.
The spokeswoman added: “The UK Government last week announced it was giving an additional £400 million of post-transition support to Northern Ireland to spend on Brexit and finance minister Kate Forbes has now written to the chancellor demanding to know whether a proportionate, fair and equitable level of funds will also be made available to Scotland.”