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Report on transparency

Audit Scotland attacks failure to measure City Deals spending

Caroline Gardner

Caroline Gardner: ‘opportunities may have been missed’ (pic: Terry Murden)

Scotland’s public spending watchdog Audit Scotland has broadly supported the Scottish Government’s City Deals programme but has raised concern over the failure to measure its long-term success.

The Auditor General and Accounts Commission has questioned the “limited transparency” around the approval process for projects that receive funds.

The UK and Scottish governments have committed £5.2bn to supporting economic development across Scotland, in conjunction with councils and partner organisations.

In its report, the commission states: “Five years after signing the first deal, the Scottish Government has not set out how it will measure their long-term success, how it will know if deals are value for money, or how deals will contribute to the outcomes in the National Performance Framework.”

Audit Scotland said that while the city deals programme had been good for Scotland’s economy, enabling economic development which may not otherwise have gone ahead, the government had “not set out how it will measure the programme’s value for money”.

It adds that it was not “clear why some deal projects were approved for funding over others, while local communities have had very little involvement in deals.”

Auditor General for Scotland Caroline Gardner said the programme’s “lack of aims and objectives” meant that opportunities “may already have been missed to ensure deals contribute to national outcomes”.

“The Scottish Government needs to show how it will measure deals’ long-term success and work with councils to improve transparency around the approval process for individual projects,” she said.

Chairman of the Accounts Commission Graham Sharp said it was important that “lines of accountability” for the deals were made clearer and “that the right staff are in place to develop and deliver deals at a time of considerable financial pressure for councils and the wider public sector”.

Labour infrastructure spokesperson Colin Smyth said the report reinforced concerns raised two years ago by the Local Government Committee. 

“While investment from growth deals is welcome and badly needed, the process for developing deals is ad-hoc, negotiated in secret, with little input from local communities. Where responsibility lies if something goes wrong with a growth deal is far from clear,” he said. 

“As a result, why certain projects are chosen over others can be a mystery. It’s also clear that the level of investment in growth deals does not compensate for the Scottish Government’s cuts in council budgets, leading to badly needed local infrastructure projects being axed.”

Public Audit Committee convenor Labour MSP Jenny Marra said the committee would “explore the transparency of project selection and funding decisions”.

“The positive potential offered by city deals by way of increased investment, collaboration between councils and their partners and overall economic development in Scotland is clear. This report, however, highlights concerns around how the Scottish Government intends to measure the initiative’s long term success and its contribution to the National Performance Framework,” she said. 

The city deals provide long-term funding programmes over 10 to 20 years, with four deals signed to date: Glasgow City Region, Aberdeen City Region, Inverness and Highland City Region and Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region. Four deals have been agreed in principle: Stirling City Region Deal, Tay Cities Deal, Ayrshire Growth Deal, and Borderlands Growth Deal.

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