Nicola Sturgeon informed Holyrood last week that Aberdeen would not be considered for Scottish Government infrastructure spending through Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) unless it proceeded with the City Gardens project.
Yet the Labour Group leading the coalition in Aberdeen council chambers has quite rightly refused to proceed with the project on the grounds that this was a manifesto pledge that granted it a mandate on the matter when they were elected to power.
Government ministers have been unscrupulous. A vital document showing the business case for the Aberdeen City Gardens project to be substandard was hidden from view until it was forced into the public domain by a Freedom of Information request from your sister title the Sunday Herald.
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The Scottish Futures Trust was asked to rank Scottish council applications for TIF funding on behalf of the Scottish Government. The Aberdeen submission scored a below-par four out of 10 in three categories: private investment, economic impact and regeneration impact. The overall ranking was 10th out of 16 applications, with six project approvals on offer to Scottish councils. The Aberdeen proposal was not in the top six.
Meanwhile, the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens had agreed to take part in a public referendum, endorsed by the Scottish Government, on the fate of Aberdeen's park. I was the chairman of the group at this time. We had agreed to be involved, provided the referendum was fairly run. A massive publicity onslaught was run against us and overwhelmed the debate. The basis for the opposition campaign was on the issues that underperformed in the SFT ranking: private investment, economic and regeneration impact. At the time the document that would have helped the Aberdeen public to make a fair judgment in the referendum was not in the public domain.
Despite the poor assessment of the Aberdeen business case, Government ministers later insisted the Aberdeen TIF should be awarded on geographical criteria, not on an economic basis. If Aberdeen is to get approval for TIF funding on a geographical basis, the current administration must be allowed to re-apply without political interference. It had a mandate to scrap the City Gardens project and Ms Sturgeon should honour this commitment.
Decision-making over the allocation of Scottish infrastructure spending should not be tainted by one political party trying to secure an advantage over another. Scotland deserves much better.
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