Scotland

Questions raised over £10bn Chinese deal

Nicola Sturgeon signing deal Image copyright Sinofortone
Image caption The agreement was signed at the first minister's Bute House residence in Edinburgh last month

Opposition parties have questioned why an investment deal worth up to £10bn signed by Scotland's first minister and a Chinese consortium was "kept quiet".

The agreement was signed on 21 March by Nicola Sturgeon and representatives of SinoFortone and China Railway No. 3 Engineering Group.

It was not announced by the Scottish government at the time.

But details of the "memorandum of understanding" were posted on the website of the SinoFortone Group.

The investment and infrastructure company said the deal paved the way for "significant investment" in areas such as clean energy, transport and affordable housing in Scotland.

Opposition politicians questioned why MSPs were not told about the agreement before the Scottish Parliament was dissolved ahead of the election on 5 May, and called for full details to be published.

'Open for business'

Speaking publicly about the agreement for the first time on Sunday, Ms Sturgeon said: "What we have done is sign a memorandum of understanding that commits us to explore possible investment.

"So there is actually no agreement on the substance of any of this at all, and if there is any proposals in the future to have investment into actual projects then they will be scrutinised in the normal way by the Scottish Parliament."

SinoFortone is already involved with projects including the new London Paramount theme park development, the proposed Crossrail 2 rail line running through London into Hertfordshire, and new metro systems in Abu Dhabi and Kuwait.

The company's website quoted Ms Sturgeon as saying the Scottish government had "continuously made the case that Scotland is open for business and we have an economy that is rife with investment opportunities".

She added: "We have been co-operating and engaging with China since 2007 and I further progressed Scotland's business credentials during my trip last year, and this memorandum of understanding will strengthen our economic links with China in a number of areas.

"New innovation collaborations between Scotland and China can deliver a boost in business growth for both countries and deliver benefits to Scotland as a whole.

"We have high hopes for Scotland's economy and it is in a strong position, but if we can drive further growth by looking beyond our shores and building relationships with firms across the world then we will seek to make that happen."

Image copyright London Resort Company Holdings
Image caption SinoFortone is already involved with plans for the Hollywood-inspired London Paramount theme park

In a joint statement, the two Chinese companies involved in the deal said they were "delighted to act as a bridge between Chinese infrastructure expertise and finance with Scotland".

They said: "We believe that the enthusiasm that we have found amongst our many Scottish friends for the project guarantees its success."

Pan Xinchun, the Chinese consul general in Scotland, said: "I congratulate all sides on this agreement as this project will benefit not only Chinese enterprises but also the Scottish people."

Sinofortune also quoted Stagecoach founder Sir Brian Souter, who is a prominent donor to the SNP, as saying: "It is a very positive step for Scotland to attract investment of this nature.

"SinoFortone's investment will be good for our economy, create jobs and enable growth. We look forward to hearing more about the specific projects and infrastructure that they are aiming to invest in."

The Scottish government said Mr Souter was not present when the agreement was signed at the first minister's Bute House residence in Edinburgh.

'Deserve the facts'

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said it was "extraordinary that a deal of such magnitude has been kept private by the SNP".

He added: "What have they got to hide that they signed this covert agreement with the Chinese when parliament was unable to scrutinise it?

"We need to know what the SNP have signed up to. What have they given in return for this investment?"

Jackie Baillie of Scottish Labour said: "This stinks. This secret deal needs to be published now. Voters deserve the facts on deals the SNP government have signed on their behalf and it is unacceptable to refuse to tell people what is in this deal.

"It simply isn't good enough to blame the purdah election period. The SNP signed this deal before that but kept it quiet - people deserve to know why.

"It simply isn't acceptable that a millionaire SNP donor knows the details of this deal but the people of Scotland don't."

And Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont asked: "Why did the SNP keep this under wraps, and why was parliament not informed?

"It appears as if the SNP simply tried to hide this away until after the election. It's not good enough - Nicola Sturgeon must now set out exactly why this has only come to light now."

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