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McCONNELL DEFENDS EXTRA CASH FOR DEPRIVED SCOTTISH AREAS

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Next year's£6.7bn settlement for Scottish councils came close to defeat after a row over extra funding for deprive...
Next year's£6.7bn settlement for Scottish councils came close to defeat after a row over extra funding for deprived areas.

Scottish finance minister Jack McConnell was forced to defend the decision to distribute an extra£21.5m to the most deprived council areas after Professor Arthur Midwinter, of Strathclyde University, accused him of politicising the distribution process.

Mr McConnell was put on the defensive during a debate before a vote on next yearÕs spending settlement. The funding for 2000-01 was approved by 63 votes to 59.

Prof Midwinter attacked Mr McConnell's 'ad hoc' adjustment to the settlement, announced in January, to give 11 councils an extra 'special deprivation allowance'.

The rethink is attributed to intervention from first minister Donald Dewar at a time when poverty in Glasgow, the biggest recipient of the extra money, was in the national news.

Prof Midwinter last week said of the adjustment: 'This development is clearly contrary to the spirit and principles of grant distribution which requires such allowances to be both plausible and evidence-based.'

He pointed out that 60% of the money went to Glasgow, Renfrewshire and North Lanarkshire councils - within the constituencies respectively of local government minister Frank McAveety, communities minister Wendy Alexander and Mr McConnell.

Mr McConnell dismissed Prof Midwinter's charges as 'absolute nonsense'.

'The extra£21.5m in deprivation allowances were distributed to councils using impartial information based on above average numbers of people claiming income support,' he said.

In the debate Mr McConnell promised to give councils new powers by the autumn to improve council tax collection.

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