RISHI Sunak has denied accusations that the UK Government plans to strip Holyrood of powers.

The SNP has accused Westminster of undermining devolved power by using levelling up schemes to invest directly in projects, over their heads.

Last month the party hit out at a £150 million community ownership fund, which will help local groups take over at-risk facilities, such as shops, pubs and post offices, according to the Scotland Office.

But the SNP say the funding, £12.3m of which has been allocated to Scotland, should be controlled by Nicola Sturgeon’s government, not Boris Johnson’s, under Barnett formula rules – and warned the programme could lead to cuts.

READ MORE: Tories plotting 'assault on devolution' with new community fund, SNP warn

The Chancellor said the UK Government has the “right” to fund such projects on a Union-boosting tour of Scotland earlier this week.

He told the Herald’s Brian Taylor podcast: “I wouldn’t accept that characterisation.

“I think, as the UK Government, we absolutely have the right and the desire to invest in all parts of the UK. That’s all that is.

“What people in Scotland want to see, and indeed that’s what they’ve told me when I’ve been here, is us as the UK Government working collectively, collaboratively with institutions in Scotland. Now that might be the Scottish Government, but it also could be local authorities.

“Why is that a bad thing? Local authorities are also close to the people that they represent and if we’re able to have a good constructive relationship with them about investing in local communities here in Scotland, I think that’s a good thing.”

Sunak also said that independence is the “wrong thing to focus on”.

“I’m not here to get into what I think are very divisive questions, because I don’t think that’s anyone’s priority.

“I think, actually, you know, that is a divisive question. What is a more unifying view, I think held by the vast majority of people in Scotland, is that what they want right now is for, particularly me, and the governments that represent them to work together to help us recover from this awful crisis that we face.

“Let’s just really remind ourselves what’s happened. We faced a once in 300-year economic shock, and hopefully a once in a century pandemic.

“Reasonably people would say ‘Look, what we want you to focus on is helping us fix that and grow out of it’.

“We talked earlier about jobs, and about getting people back into work. That’s what people want us to be focussing on. Not, I don’t think, thinking about constitutional settlements at this time.”

READ MORE: Rishi Sunak urged to apologise to public during visit to Scotland

Sunak said he would not rule out future tax rises to mitigate the billions of pounds spent to help protect jobs in the pandemic but said his government’s plan for economic growth centred around “investing in infrastructure, innovation and skills”.

He went on: “Almost everybody I’ve spoken to has not wanted to talk to me about [indpendence]. “What they’ve wanted to talk to me about is how does their business recover from the difficult year; how do they create jobs?

“Or there’s people who want to figure out how do they get a new job or make sure that their family has security. Those are the things that we should be focussed on.”