Hand us £165m share of Olympic funding, SNP tells Westminster

WESTMINSTER is facing a wave of pressure from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to give the devolved administrations a share of Olympic regeneration funds.

At the first joint ministerial committee (JMC) in six years, First Ministers Alex Salmond, Rhodri Morgan and Peter Robinson called on the Treasury to give a proportionate amount of cash to their electorate.

The SNP insists that for Scotland, this would be worth 165 million alone in Barnett "consequentials", or more than 40 million a year until the 2012 Games.

John Swinney, the finance secretary, said the meeting, held in a dungeon under the House of Commons chamber and chaired by Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, was "courteous and frank".

Mr Swinney said that "no reasonable person" could think that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should not be entitled to their share of the regeneration money from the Olympics. "All the devolved administrations have a shared point of view on this," he said.

Mr Morgan, the Labour First Minister of Wales, agreed that the meeting had been cordial.

"A fly on the wall from Mars wouldn't have been able to tell which party an individual minister came from," he said.

The Treasury has ruled this out, however, and Whitehall insiders claim that the devolved administrations already have their share of the cash through the Comprehensive Spending Review, the three-year spending deal.

A Treasury spokesman said: "The Olympics were won for the whole UK, with support from the devolved administrations, and the whole of the UK will benefit from the Games. The Olympics' budget delivers the venues and required supporting infrastructure for them, and as the Olympics are a UK-wide Games, there are no Barnett consequentials."

The issue will now be sent back to the committee where it will be put into a newly agreed arbitration process – one of the other developments to emerge from yesterday's meeting.

Mr Salmond welcomed the arbitration process, saying the JMC was at last a mechanism by "which things can be properly judged".

He added: "The Treasury will no longer be judge and jury in their own court and I believe that you get the chance of a better, fairer dialogue."

He said of the Olympic regeneration wrangle that "other cases may be more arguable but that one is beyond dispute in my view".

Both Scotland and Wales have also pushed for the legislation surrounding the Marine Bill to be tidied up.

Scotland wants to wrest jurisdiction away from Westminster for control of conservation to the 200-mile boundary with international waters.

But the UK government said that any legislative changes to the devolution settlement needed to be considered separately, and should not stand in the way of the Bill.

The JMC also discussed renewable energy with all the administrations agreeing to play their part in helping meet targets for 2020.

The meeting aired relations between the administrations and the next meeting will take place in the autumn.

JMC meeting itself is a satisfactory outcome for Salmond

FOR Alex Salmond, the meeting of the joint ministerial committee was as much about the process as the outcome.

It has been one of the SNP's early aims to revive the machinery of the JMC, after the procedure was left to languish in the days when Labour ruled both Holyrood and London.

With an SNP administration in Scotland and a "rainbow" coalition in Wales, the formal structure of the JMC will be an important tool for dispute resolution. All the devolved administrations agree on the need to get their hands on Olympic regeneration cash. The JMC would be used as an effective lobby to squeeze more money out of the Treasury.

Making a rare appearance at Westminster yesterday, Mr Salmond cut a relaxed figure. He was keen to stress the progress on the Marine Bill, less keen to highlight the looming financial rows over issues such as the local income tax and any consequent shortfalls.

In pointing to the Marine Bill, Mr Salmond said he wanted all elements involving the Scottish seas devolved to Holyrood, but, like Scottish independence, he knows there will be no immediate agreement.

Part of his strategy is to play the great statesman, chip away at Westminster's rule over Scotland, scoring small victories along the way.

Perhaps underscoring this, Mr Salmond did something he does not normally do: he made a small joke at his own expense, telling journalists that he had turned up on the Planning Bill in Westminster only to discover that the SNP had agreed to abstain on it.

Back to the top of the page