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TRANSPORT MINISTER REFUTES CLAIMS OF EAST SCOT BIAS

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Suggestions of an east-west divide in transport project funding by the Scottish Office were refuted by roads and tr...
Suggestions of an east-west divide in transport project funding by the Scottish Office were refuted by roads and transport minister James Douglas-Hamilton.

Lord James made his comments in a letter to cllr Charles Gordon, chairman of Strathclyde Passenger Transport Authority, who was quoted in the media last week as claiming that the west of Scotland was losing out on central government transport funding due to an apparent bias towards the east of the country.

Mr Gordon was quoted as saying that Scottish office ministers were 'fiddling' funding in favour of Edinburgh, and that efforts to develop schemes in the west were being 'systematically thwarted' by the Scottish Office.

The full text of the letter to councillor Gordon is as follows:

'I have seen the article which appeared in The Herald on Saturday, November 2, 1996 about transport funding in the West of Scotland, in which it is reported that you have suggested that an east-west divide was emerging over awards of Scottish Office funding for transport projects.

'I would complete refute any suggestion that there is any bias in the way in which transport funds are allocated by The Scottish Office.

'In the recently announced shortlist of 11 for the 1998-99 Transport Challenge Fund, four projects are situated in the West and South-West of Scotland, four in the East of Scotland, two in Central Scotland and one in the North West. I cannot therefore see how an accusation of bias can be sustained given the spread of shortlisted bids. In any case the challenge fund competition is not based on ensuring an even geographical spread - it is rightly aimed at allowing funds to follow need and to ensure that the best value for money schemes are brought forward and appropriately rewarded.

'The challenge fund decisions already taken for 1997-98 prove that the competition can enable a range of councils to undertake proportionally large projects for their budget which they would otherwise have been unable to take forward - an example of the winners being Argyll and Bute's application for the A848 Salen-Tobermory Road on Mull.

'It is also worth emphasising that the 1997-98 competition was a pilot scheme which was aimed at encouraging joint venture PFI projects - and only two of the 12 applications came from authorities within the former Strathclyde area.

'One of these, the bid from the Strathclyde Passenger Transport Authority for the Larkhall to Milngavie railway line was not in a sufficient state of readiness to proceed in any significant fashion in 1997-98 but we have, as you know, shortlisted the application for the 1998-99 competition.

'I note this last point was excluded from the report in The Herald. It is therefore completely misleading to make a comparison between the City of Edinburgh Rapid Transport project and the Larkhall to Milngavie railway line, given the different circumstances of the 2 bids and the fact that I shall be giving further consideration to the SPTA application in the coming months.

'You also reportedly commented that there had been a 56 per cent reduction in transportation spending this year. If you were referring to local authority spending, as you know it is solely up to the local authorities concerned to decide which services they spend their block capital allocation on. This is also relevant to your point about resources for he SPTA in the coming financial year. The block allocation covers local authority needs over a wide range of services and it is rightly for the Councils themselves to decide how much is spent on transport as opposed to other services.

'However, as you know, I am considering the future capital allocation arrangements for the SPTA, following our meeting in September, and I will write to you shortly about this.

'The Scottish Office also provides revenue support for rail services in the West of Scotland that are supported by the SPTA. With your agreement, we have given a commitment to pay to the SPTA, via its 12 constituent authorities, a special grant, in each year of the operation of the ScotRail franchise, to meet the level of support required to maintain the current levels of rail service that are secured by Strathclyde Passenger Transport.

'The level of that grant is still to be determined, but, as you know, it will be substantial. These special arrangements apply only to the SPTA area in the West of Scotland, of course; and will help to allow the continuance of the high level of rail services there.

'To complete the picture on resources spent on transport in the West of Scotland, an important consideration has been the Government's priorities for developing a national strategic trunk network. These are currently focused on the upgrading to motorway of the A74 (Scotland's main link with the markets to the south), and the completion of the central Scotland motorway network, which together will bring significant economic benefits to Glasgow, and will help attract investors looking for areas in which to locate.

'Significant amounts have been spent in recent years on trunk roads in the West of Scotland. These include:- £22m for the M80 Stepps Bypass; £17m for the St James Interchange; £37m for the M74 Maryville to West of Fullerton Road; £53m on the section of the M77 Ayr Road Route between the M8 in Glasgow and the A77 at Malletsheugh, jointly funded by The Scottish Office and Strathclyde RC.

'In addition, tenders are likely to be sought soon for the M8 DBFO scheme upgrading the section between Baillieston to Shotts. Consultation has also been taking place on the line for the upgrading of the A80 between Stepps and Cumbernauld.

'The government's aim is balanced transport development throughout Scotland. Our priorities are driven by objective analysis of strategic needs and value for money. I would hope that we could expect a similarly objective view of the outcome of our decisions. I do not think that the facts substantiate any suggestion of unfair treatment of the West of Scotland. Indeed, I am aware that there are many elsewhere in Scotland who would welcome a scale of investment in their area comparable to that which has been apparent in the West in recent years.

'Given the matter was raised in The Herald, I feel obliged to release the contents of this letter to the Press.'

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