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Mixed views on Elgin's £20m UK Government levelling up funding, announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Long-Term Plan for Towns

By Lewis McBlane

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DEBATE is ongoing over the Prime Minister's £20 million, ten-year, promise to Elgin.

Elgin High Street could receive some of the cash...Picture: Beth Taylor..
Elgin High Street could receive some of the cash...Picture: Beth Taylor..

Moray politicians are divided on the town's inclusion in the Long-Term Plan for Towns, announced as part of the UK Government's Levelling Up project.

Elgin is one of seven Scottish towns to receive the funding, announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak yesterday (October 1), and the only place north of the central belt to be included.

Conservatives Moray MP Douglas Ross and Moray Council leader Councillor Kathleen Robertson warmly welcomed the announcement.

Mr Ross described the funding as "absolutely fantastic" and said the cash would allow Moray Council to spend more elsewhere.

While Cllr Robertson said it was "wonderful that the UK Government are directly investing in Elgin at the heart of Moray and allowing local leaders to decide where to spend their money."

However, despite admitting that "all cash for Moray is welcome", SNP MP for Moray Richard Lochhead said that by bypassing the Scottish Parliament and singling out only one Moray community, the new grant was a "purely political and headline grabbing intervention".

He added that: "This is however only a small part of what is owed to Moray by the UK government."

Moray Labour leader Sandy Keith said the timing of the "shambles" announcement was "highly suspect".

While welcoming "any investment in Elgin", he added that the "public will see through this cynical pre-election giveaway".

Announced at the start of the UK Conservative Party Conference on Sunday, cash will be directly paid to Moray Council to be spent on Elgin’s priorities.

This may include regenerating the town centre and keeping the local community safe, along with improving transport links and growing the economy.

A Town Board will also be set up to work out a ten-year plan for spending the money, according to the Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities (DLUHC).

Local figures including Moray's MP, the council, cultural and sporting organisations, public sector agencies and local businesses will have a place on the board, according to the DLUHC.

Further details on how the investment will be published following discussion with the UK Government, Scottish Government and Moray Council.

In total, 75 per cent of fund cash will go toward projects which create lasting assets, like improving or creating buildings (capital funding), and 25 per cent on day-to-day costs, such as staff costs or events (resource funding).

Across the UK, £1.1 billion will be spent on 55 towns through the Long-Term Plan for Towns.

Moray MP Mr Ross said: “This is further evidence of how the UK Government are fully committed to levelling up all parts of our country, including right here in Moray.

“Tackling the decline of our towns – and town centres – has to be a top priority if we are to encourage people to come to Moray and make this their home and place of work.

“By giving this funding directly to Moray Council, the UK Government are putting decisions in the hands of local people and ensuring decisions can be taken on their real priorities.

"That means money can be spent on regenerating Elgin High Street, improving local transport links and growing the local economy.

“While this funding is for Elgin, I hope the investment means the council now has money it can direct to priorities elsewhere in Moray so the whole area can benefit from the additional £20 million.

“The funding is a huge boost during these tough economic times for Elgin and Moray as a whole and I am looking forward to engaging with relevant stakeholders to ensure this money is delivered to who needs it most.

“That includes the SNP-Green government who I hope will work closely with the UK Government and Moray Council rather than play their typical political games over this funding.

“The UK Government’s Long-Term Plan for Towns can deliver tangible long-term benefits for places like Elgin and I am delighted this funding has been made available to the local authority."

However Mr Lochhead, Moray MSP, said: “This is the levelling up funds that led to a big backlash at the beginning of this year after the UK Government shockingly snubbed Moray Council’s £18m bid for an Elgin master plan, meaning that of the multi-billion pound fund not a penny had come to Moray, despite the Tory PM giving his own constituency a similar pot of cash.

“This is also part of the post-Brexit fall out after Moray and the Highlands and Islands lost tens of millions in EU grants that have not been replaced by the UK Government as promised.

“£2m a year for just one of Moray’s many communities that by-passes the Scottish Parliament and goes straight to local councils would appear to me to be a purely political and headline grabbing intervention but, of course, all cash for Moray is welcome, especially for our local high streets.

"This is however only a small part of what is owed to Moray by the UK government.

“UK Government announcements are often about grabbing headlines and little else so let’s wait and see what happens here.”

Council Leader Cllr Robertson, who represents the Forres ward, said: “The allocation of £20m for Elgin is clearly a very welcome investment and the ripple effect it will have to benefit the whole of Moray is considerable.

"With the Elgin City Centre Masterplan already geared up for progressing such investment, alongside the input from the Scottish and UK Government and partner funded Moray Growth Deal, it feels as though we’re on the cusp of some very exciting developments coming soon across the region.

"It’s clear to me that a recent visit from the Levelling-up Secretary to Elgin has shown the UK Government exactly what we’re capable of achieving here in Moray and that’s something we can all be immensely proud of doing together.”

“It is wonderful that the UK Government are directly investing in Elgin at the heart of Moray and allowing local leaders to decide where to spend their money.

“That means millions can be spent in the coming years on what matters to folk living here and who will reap the rewards of the UK Government’s funding.

“As a local council leader and local councillor, I know how challenging times are for our towns right now and we must be bold in how we deliver a positive future for people, businesses and organisations in Elgin and across our region, and this funding from the UK Government will help to do just that.

“I will work closely with stakeholders across Elgin and look forward to hearing a whole host of ideas from local people about where this money should be spent.”

Councillor for Elgin City North, and Labour group leader, Sandy Keith said: “While I welcome any investment in Elgin, the timing of this announcement is highly suspect.

"Last year, the Council spent £325,000 bidding for this money from the UK Government, only for us to be knocked back.

"Now they’ve decided to give it to us anyway, it poses the question as to why they made us spend all that money bidding for it in the first place? It’s a shambles.

“I suppose being 20 points behind Labour in the polls might have focused the Tories’ minds somewhat, but the public will see through this cynical pre-election giveaway.

"Given that this money could potentially be up to ten years away, it seems highly unlikely that it is a promise the Tories will ever get to keep.

"I look forward to it being a Labour government that actually delivers this cash, and a lot more, for Moray.”

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