The pledge to “unleash the potential of the Union” ran through the Chancellor’s spending review like letters through a stick of rock.
The phrase popped up time and time again and with it, promises of cash.
There’s the usual billions of pounds in Barnett consequentials that come from any uplift in spending on public services in England, but there was also mention of two new funding streams to, you guessed it, “unleash the potential of the Union”.
First, there is the new and mysterious “levelling up fund”, of which Scotland will have an £800 million share.
The Treasury say the fund will “invest in local infrastructure that has a visible impact on people and their communities and will support economic recovery”.
Details of how cash will be allocated will be unveiled in the New Year, but – in a shift away from the current devolved funding model – it will be for MPs and local councils to decide where the money goes, with little involvement from Holyrood.
Likewise, the shared prosperity fund – which will replace EU structural grants next year – will be administered from Whitehall next year.
The Treasury say they will launch the first round of competitions for a share of the £1.5bn fund in the New Year.
Many celebrated this scheme when it was first touted three years ago, but given we’re now weeks away from Brexit, it will be too little, too late for many who have relied heavily on EU cash.
A controversial move…
Separately, there’s also an uplift in funding for the Scotland Office. Its budget will rise from £10.6m to £11.4m next year. Why? The Treasury says this will help Scottish Secretary Alister Jack and his team to… “unleash the potential of the Union”.
Giving Westminster the ability to spend directly in Scotland is controversial and is seen by many as an affront to devolution.
Regardless of those concerns, Sunak has pressed ahead today. The Tories realise they will need such tools at their disposal if they are to try and stop an SNP landslide next May.
Whether, as the Treasury hope, these policies will “ensure the benefits of the Union are clear, visible and understood to all citizens” is another thing entirely.