MSP David Stewart asks the First Minister Question about £190million EU penalty

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, quizzed Nicola Sturgeon about the £190million penalty the Scottish Government faces because of irregularities in its EU structural fund spending.

In Mr Stewart’s last question at FMQs today before he retires, he highlighted how much the region had relied on European funding in the past and asked Ms Sturgeon for her response to reports about the penalty.

He said: “The First Minister will, of course, be well aware that my region, the Highlands and Islands, has been one of the UK’s top three beneficiaries of structural funds, from the Kessock Bridge to the University of the Highlands and Islands, funding which has sustained and developed the local economy.

“However, the European Commission expressed concerns for years about two points, weaknesses in verification checks by the Scottish Government and the failure to meet annual spending targets.

“Could the First Minister explain why the situation was not resolved. resulting in millions being lost to the Highlands and Islands and indeed the rest of Scotland?”

The First Minister agreed that European structural funds had supported people and communities and was pivotal to supporting growth over a number of years.

She added that the Scottish Government did not face a £190million penalty explaining that this was a “worst case scenario” if the European Social Fund and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) remained in suspension but the suspension on the ERDF was lifted in December 2020.

She did concede however that these were “highly technical matters” and promised Mr Stewart would be contacted by the Scottish Government to explain the steps that had been taken to address the criticism.

Mr Stewart thanked Nicola Sturgeon for her detailed response, but after the session added: “People in the region will be well aware of projects that were supported by European funds.

“Take a trip around the Highlands and Islands and you can see the bridges, the roads and the structures which benefited from the welcome injection of cash, improving life for communities and for visitors alike.

“The Scottish Government didn’t come up to scratch when dealing with this funding and the First Minister can’t wriggle out of that. I await the follow up letter with interest.”