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Jamie Stone highlights 'lack of accountability' over Inverness and Highlands City-Region Deal


By Staff Reporter- NOSN

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There has been criticism that the city-region deal is Inverness-centric. Picture: Alan Hendry
There has been criticism that the city-region deal is Inverness-centric. Picture: Alan Hendry

A lack of accountability for Scotland’s city deals is behind the failure of money to reach the far north, according to local MP Jamie Stone.

The Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP was speaking in the wake of a report by spending watchdog Audit Scotland which has warned that Scotland’s city deals – including the Inverness and Highlands City-Region Deal – lack provisions to measure performance and many may have already missed opportunities to meet targets due to a lack of measures to track progress.

Mr Stone said that the programme has been met with disappointment locally and he called for the creation of a Highlands deal.

The public finance watchdog questioned key factors about the eight deals that have been signed or agreed in principle, including the programme's “value for money” and a lack of both community involvement and clarity in the project selection.

That echoes some of the complaints placed at the door of the Inverness and Highland City-Region deal which has been beset by criticism that it is Inverness-centric and has failed to bring meaningful projects to outlying areas.

The Audit Scotland report stated: “The Scottish Government has not set out how it will measure the programme's value for money. It is also not clear why some deal projects were approved for funding over others, while local communities have had very little involvement in deals.”

Those issues have led to “limited transparency around the process” and revealed that accountability “around individual deals if something went wrong also remains untested”.

This lack of accountability or clear measures for success has allowed money to be concentrated on Inverness with very little being spent in the rural areas.

Mr Stone said: “There is a huge sense of disappointment in the far north that money from the Inverness and Highlands City-Region Deal doesn’t make it to my constituency. Audit Scotland’s findings will do nothing to boost people’s confidence in this scheme.

“This lack of accountability or clear measures for success has allowed money to be concentrated on Inverness with very little being spent in the rural areas of this vast region.

“In 2018 I asked the Treasury for an audit on this deal but was rebuffed and told the deal was good for local economies.

“Audit Scotland’s report shows this is not necessarily the case. Both the UK and Scottish governments must accept that communities in Caithness and Sutherland are not being served by the city-region deal and look into a new deal that focuses only on the Highlands, as suggested by Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson.”

A Highland Council spokesman said: “The Inverness and Highlands City-Region Deal is about delivering sustainable economic growth across the Highlands.

"This investment is focused on rebalancing our population, improving physical and digital connectivity, up-skilling the labour market, delivering more housing and private sector investment, and promoting innovation and tourism.

“The Inverness and Highlands City-Region Deal projects will create opportunities and impacts greater than the sum of their parts and support the development of the Highlands as a place that will attract, retain and develop talent.

“Highland Council is the accountable body for the Inverness and Highlands City-Region Deal, providing effective management arrangements for the deal and assurance to both governments that there is openness and transparency in governance, decision-making and project delivery.

"Two annual reviews have been held to date and the deal continues to deliver across the Highlands.”


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