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'Ruthless' Edinburgh to distribute EU funding for Highlands

A DECISION for European funding to the Highlands and Islands to be distributed by Edinburgh for the first time in over 20 years is claimed to be proof of a "ruthless process of centralisation".

European Structural Funds, which have to be matched funded by government here, have delivered massive investment, including the slipways and a car ferry for the Small Isles, a bridge to Scalpay and a causeway to Berneray, a new terminal at Inverness Airport and the Cairngorms funicular railway.

Distribution of the money has been the responsibility of the Highlands & Islands European Partnership (HIEP) made up of the seven local authorities, the University of the Highlands and Islands and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, in a separate programme.

But this is going to change, according to a paper going to the Western Isles Council's policy and resources committee on Wednesday from chief executive Malcolm Burr. Ministers insist that all of the €193 million (£154m) earmarked for the Highlands and Islands for 2014-2020 from European Structural Funds will be spent there.

But former Labour minister and persistent critic of the SNP Brian Wilson wrote in his column for the West Highland Free Press that the move showed "the ruthless process of centralisation in Edinburgh will proceed apace".

Mr Burr's report says: "The HIEP has been lobbying since 2013 for a separate Structural Funds Programme for the Highlands and Islands, and failing that, the implementation of a Highlands and Islands Integrated Territorial Investment (ITI) model. It is now apparent neither will happen."

It says this was "not felt to add considerable value" by the Scottish Government given the scale of investment under the Structural Funds in Scotland, and "with the need to ensure that approaches in these areas align with and benefit from national strategic approaches".

Western Isles Council leader Angus Campbell said that one of the objectives set out in the three islands councils' campaign for more powers, and recognised in the Scottish Government prospectus for island communities launched just last week, was to make sure legislation recognised the impacts on island communities. "And yet here we have 'national strategic approaches' being pushed which would cover the whole of Scotland and the view that a distinct Highlands and Islands programme for European funding would not add value. That is disappointing," he said.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "These claims are wrong. The Highlands and Islands will receive €193m from European Structural Funds during the period 2014-20. These funds must be and will be spent exclusively in the Highlands and Islands."

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Local government

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