THE benefits of Brexit become ever more difficult to discern.

Last week brought a splurge of spending under “Levelling Up” to replace the old EU Structural Funds. We were invited to cheer this evidence of “taking back control”.

However, those of us who remember the scale of, and rationale behind, the now-departed structural funds, in parts of the country that were socially or geographically disadvantaged, can find little evidence to support the “like for like” claim.

Instead, a modest amount of compensation will support a random scattering of worthy projects across Scotland and the rest of the UK. There is nothing wrong with that but it scarcely represents a “structural” challenge to inequality of any kind, in Scotland or elsewhere.

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Scotland got slightly more than our proportionate share of the money, so that complaint is invalid. Even then, it is difficult to discern why Glasgow would get so little out of any process intended to close the gap between deprivation and relative affluence.

Unfortunately, it is equally difficult to take seriously the bleatings of Susan Aitken, the SNP ultra-loyalist who has led her party group since 2014 and Glasgow City Council for six years while remaining abjectly silent in the face of relentless cuts to her city’s budget, inflicted by colleagues and cronies in Edinburgh.

As an obstacle to creating greater equality within Glasgow, the systematic maltreatment of council funding has been infinitely more significant than last week’s bid failure.

Whatever the defects of Levelling Up, they are not responsible for Glasgow being in the state it’s in; facing a £68 million deficit and considering options that include losing 800 teaching posts, early closure of primary schools, cuts to dyslexia support and the axing of mentoring programmes for disadvantaged youth – and that’s only education.

All this sits squarely with Glasgow City Council and the treatment of local government by the Scottish Government which, given her closeness to the SNP leadership, Ms Aitken has been arguably the best placed person in Scotland to resist. She really could have made a difference by occasionally putting city and people before party.

If Ms Aitken were in doubt about what was happening, it should have been resolved in 2021 when the Scottish Parliament’s research centre confirmed that while the Scottish Government had cut council funding in general by almost four times the rate at which its own budget reduced, Glasgow had suffered particularly cruel treatment.

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It stated: “The greatest reduction in real terms revenue funding per head between 2013-14 and 2019-20 for a wholly mainland authority has been for Glasgow City, which has seen its funding per head reduce by £270.” Nothing has happened since to alter that picture, yet where were the howls of protest from Glasgow City Council?

Where was the leadership and influence Ms Aitken could have exerted? Who in their right mind believed that Glasgow should endure the highest per capita cuts on mainland Scotland within the context of local authority allocations that were being disproportionately cut year on year?

Even Ms Aitken signed the statement from all 32 Scottish council leaders in the wake of John Swinney’s latest Budget which will mean, they said, “another massive real-terms cut in councils’ core funding, after more than 10 years of real-terms cuts” which would “lead to socially harmful cuts to vital local services and the loss of jobs”.

If all that is true for Scottish local authorities as a whole, it has been even more so for Glasgow with its desperate need for good quality public services as by far the most effective means of levelling anything up.

Schools, educational support, libraries, parks, housing, a decent local environment… These are the real tools of levelling up and they are all council responsibilities – the same councils that endured “10 years of real terms cuts” under centralising, nationalist rule. Which side were you on throughout that decade of deprivation, Ms Aitken?

On one point of complaint she is undoubtedly right. Even preparing bids under the Levelling Up process came at a "significant financial cost to Glasgow", said Ms Aitken. Putting together bids and business plans for multi-million projects is hugely time-consuming for any local authority.

Again, however, the question arises of why Ms Aitken is only discovering this now? They have been faced with the same costly, time-wasting experience for years as direct council funding and local decision-making were replaced with a plethora of “funds” under the control of SNP ministers.

Apart from uneven outcomes and time wasted on unsuccessful bids, it has made long-term, strategic planning by local authorities well-nigh impossible. All of these funds are time-limited before the next bidding round begins.

Funding councils to do their job properly is not only respectful of local democracy but also a far more efficient use of resources. The only box it does not tick is the one which demands that every “fund” can be separately branded as Scottish Government largesse, for political advantage.

A report from Holyrood’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee is highly relevant to these themes. It concluded that Scotland will not meet its net zero targets “without a more empowered local government sector, with better access to the skills and capital it will need to play a full role in this energy revolution”.

HeraldScotland: The Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee concluded that Scotland will not reach net zero targets without better focus on local governmentThe Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee concluded that Scotland will not reach net zero targets without better focus on local government (Image: Newsquest)

In other words, they are calling for the exact opposite of the current mentality. As the report says: “We reiterate that there is a need for a revamp of funding streams potentially available to Councils to be more accessible and less short-term”.

It is pretty obvious that the best way to spend public money in support of net zero objectives would be through governments working together at all levels – UK, Scottish and local – to deliver on agreed objectives. And what is true for net zero also applies more widely.

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Instead, Scotland has two governments which can barely speak civilly to each other and local government which has been marginalised, under-funded and disrespected. That is a guaranteed formula for delivering nothing, and simply has to change.