THE UK Government isn’t bypassing devolution it’s “augmenting it”, Michael Gove has claimed. The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities also claimed initiatives such as the Levelling Up Fund are “very good” for devolved nations.

The £4.8 billion pot will allow Westminster to approve funding in devolved areas – such as transport and regeneration – rather than passing on the money through Barnett consequentials. The move has prompted outrage from the SNP who previously dubbed it a “naked power grab”.

And now Gove, during a briefing with Scottish journalists in London, claimed “many” Scottish councils had already put in bids for the funding – but would not give an exact number. It is understood that more details on which local authorities have successfully applied to the scheme will be released next week.

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Gove was asked how the UK Government’s spending in devolved areas, effectively bypassing the Scottish Parliament, squares with his claims that he wants to see the devolution settlement strengthened.

He said he wants to see the Scottish Government work “more energetically and more effectively” and noted the recent Supreme Court ruling on incorporating the UN Charter on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law, which was found to be outside Parliament’s competence.

Gove added: “Some of the projects that have been put forward, many of the projects being put forward by the Levelling Up Fund, have the backing of SNP MPs.

“So there are people who have been elected on an SNP ticket but who are first and foremost constituency representatives, who are backing initiatives that say that the UK Government should spend additional money, above and beyond the block grant, in parts of the United Kingdom. That seems to me to be a very, very good thing, it’s not bypassing the devolution settlement it’s augmenting it.”

The National: A75

On the possible upgrade to the A75, which is being considered under the Union Connectivity review, despite Transport being devolved, he added: “You live in Stranraer, or in Whithorn or in Lockerbie and the Government says you know what the UK Government is offering money to ensure that we improve a vital trunk route which helps you in Dumfries and Galloway, helps Scotland’s economy overall, helps Northern Ireland, helps the North of England.

“And we’re giving this money to the Scottish Government, there’s not a penny taken off the block grant, nothing else anywhere else, we’re going to supply the funding, doing everything, and then the Scottish Government says oh no, no, no, you’re trampling on devolved competence.

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“Do we really think a citizen of Stranraer, Whithorn or Lockerbie is going to say ‘Oh well done, thank you so much, Scotland is stronger now that we’ve kept this road in its current condition’? It is practical co-operation.”

The MP was also probed on whether or not there is a case for the UK and Scottish Government entering into a joint agreement which would lay out conditions for a second referendum. Gove simply said “no”, and then claimed that focusing on the constitution is a “distraction” from pandemic recovery. He said: “The second thing that I would say is that in the Holyrood elections earlier this year the SNP wanted to win a majority, they hoped to win a majority, some of them said they would win a majority, they didn’t.

The National: Alex Salmond

“We had a majority under Alex Salmond and not only a majority but a consensus among all parties in the Scottish Parliament that there should be a referendum.

“There is neither that majority nor that consensus. I cannot see the demand for it, and as I say I think that voters have a right to expect us to focus on jobs, on the NHS, on improving education and skills, and not having a theoretical argument about the length of a generation.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The UK Government’s handling of the Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) continues to be a significant threat to the devolution settlement.

“Devolution has improved people’s lives in Scotland and delivered governments they have chosen. The UK Government is now putting that at risk by deciding itself how money is spent in areas of devolved responsibility when it should be for the Scottish Government to set its own priorities.

“The Scottish Government has set out its own detailed plans for allocating this funding but the UK Government has not only refused to engage with the devolved administrations in any meaningful way on policy development for the SPF, but has still not published any plans of its own, despite announcing its intention to establish the fund in 2018 and the fact that it is due to start in April 2022.”

We previously told how the Good Law Project is bringing a legal challenge against the Tories claiming the Levelling Up Fund is being used to spend in areas which would politically benefit the party. The lawsuit has been filed against Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, after their areas were among those to benefit from the cash.