Funding row

Forbes blames ‘partners’ for failure to spend EU cash

Kate Forbes
Kate Forbes: I don’t recognise the figures

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Kate Forbes has blamed the government’s ‘partners’ for a failure to spend hundreds of millions of pounds of EU funding.

Ms Forbes told MSPs that councils and other public bodies were responsible for not spending their allocation of European and Structural Investment Funds.

Earlier this month, it was reported that Scotland returned 28% of unspent funding, while Wales was on course to return 9% of its money, England 6% and Northern Ireland 2%.

Ms Forbes said reports that the government had not spent the money were “inaccurate and misleading”.

“Neither I nor the Scottish Parliament information centre recognises the figures that have been quoted,” she said. 

Ms Forbes told Holyrood that Scotland received  €783.4 million, which is about £669 million, and 60% of the money allocated by ministers went to projects run by councils.

She said 60% Sixty per cent of the allocations have been to local government. The rest was largely to public bodies such as NatureScot and Skills Development Scotland, “which delivered excellent green infrastructure and skills training programmes respectively.

The burden of implementing, delivering and agreeing the projects lies with our partners.”

She added: “At every turn, we have encouraged our partners to spend their allocations of European Union funding and meet their delivery targets. Unfortunately, in some cases, projects contracted.”

Ms Forbes said that an example was the number of participants in structural funds apprenticeship programmes there were impacted by the pandemic in 2020, the final year of the European social fund.

“We also repeatedly asked all our partners to put forward new projects or to expand existing ones in order to maximise our use of the funds. Some proposed projects did not meet the European Commission’s strict eligibility criteria.”

Explaining how the fund works, she said the European Commission’s requirements are very stringent.

“Only a limited number of projects fit them, and the funding cannot be used for core services, she said, adding that “because match funding is required, it has not always been easy—especially for the third sector—to complete projects.”

She said: “Any suggestion that the European funding could have been used for any or all public expenditure… simply is not accurate. The funding cannot relieve the pressure on day-to-day spending that is caused by austerity. It does not work in that way.”

She added: “Following Brexit, the UK Government promised to deliver replacement funding. Its shared prosperity fund is piecemeal and does not compensate for the huge damage that has been inflicted on Scotland.”

Liz Smith, the Scottish Conservative finance spokeswoman, insisted Ms Forbes declare figures for the shortfall and the minister admitted that Scotland’s allocation had fallen by almost €158 million, or £133 million. She said that “comparisons with other parts of the UK are spurious”.

Liz Smith
Liz Smith: called out SNP handling of finances

Ms Smith said: “Despite Kate Forbes’s attempt to bamboozle and evade the issue by claiming that the accounts haven’t been finalised, it’s very clear that an enormous amount of money which should have been spent in Scotland has been handed back to the EU by the SNP.”

She added: “We are used to the SNP’s financial incompetence, and their terrible record on transparency which has repeatedly been called out by independent analysts. And, as usual, they have attempted to blame the pandemic or local government and draw misleading comparisons with the rest of the UK.”

Michael Marra, Scottish Labour’s finance spokesman, said: “It is clear that hundreds of millions of euros have already been lost due to the incompetence of this SNP government.

“The deputy first minister’s attempt to downplay the scale of that loss this afternoon was shameful. The SNP government cannot pass the buck to local authorities, when this government has presided over years of savage cuts to local government budgets. Scotland deserves much better than this — it’s time for change.”

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