THE Scottish Government is involved in a row with the Home Office over who should meet the cost of policing the Liberal Democrat party conference in Glasgow later this year.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has written to UK ministers outlining his concerns over the estimated £1.2 million bill for security at the conference, where Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will address delegates.
The September event is expected to net the city £12m in revenue, with UK-wide media, business and political figures set to book out hotels for one half of the UK coalition partnership’s annual gathering.
However, SNP MSPs in the city say the Scottish Government should not pick up the tab for policing costs, pointing to England where the Home Office usually meets 85 per cent of the bill because of the security needs of ministers and high-profile politicians.
The staging of a UK conference in Scotland is a rarity, with neither Labour nor the Tories having held one north of the Border in the post-war era. The Lib Dems last staged their federal conference in Scotland in 1995.
However, Clegg says his party has decided to return, exactly a year before the 2014 independence referendum, to show Scots the Lib Dems remain committed to more devolution and to keeping Scotland within the UK.
The staging of the event is being seen as a coup for events chiefs in Glasgow, as it seeks to build on its already strong reputation as a conference destination. In recent years, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham have held a lock-grip on staging the three UK party conferences.
However, with relations between London and Edinburgh already at their lowest since devolution, there is now another row about who should pay.
Last night the SNP’s Glasgow Kelvin MSP Sandra White said: “It is wrong that the Home Office has not committed to meeting the share of the policing costs for this UK-wide event as they would if it was taking place south of the Border.”
In a letter to White, MacAskill said: “The costs associated with undertaking this additional burden are significant; based on current threat and risk assessments Strathclyde Police estimate the cost in 2013 to be in the region of £1.25m.
“Where the conferences take place in England or Wales, the Home Office generally pays 85 per cent of the police costs involved. I have written to the Secretary of State for Home Affairs outlining the Scottish Government’s position with regard to the financing of the security arrangements for the conference.”
Sources said that there was now a “negotiation” between the two sides on the cost of policing the event, although UK figures said there could be no doubt that policing issues were for the Scottish Government to decide.
They said it was “disappointing” SNP politicians had decided to make the dispute public. One Lib Dem source said: “It would be a pity if this was turned into yet another constitutional spat.”
However, Glasgow city chiefs last night declined to get involved, saying only they were delighted by the fact that a conference was coming to the city.
Scottish Labour MP Brian Donohoe is pressing for his party to have its UK conference in the city.
A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said: “We expect this particular event to be worth around £12m to the hotel and hospitality sector in and around Glasgow.”
Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins of Strathclyde Police said: “We have raised the issue of policing costs of this conference and discussions are ongoing between police, Scottish Government, Home Office and Liberal Democrats.”
A Scottish Government spokesman confirmed: “The Scottish Government is keen to ensure that the Home Office continues to contribute to costs when a UK political party and one of the parties forming the coalition holds its conference in Scotland, as would be the case if it were to be held in England.”
A spokesman for the pro-UK campaign, Better Together said: “This is pretty churlish stuff from the Nationalists. They don’t see the financial benefits from being a part of the UK, they only see opportunities to criticise and pick political fights.”