Treasury chief takes holiday during Scotland Bill talks

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Greg Hands. Picture: PA
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Greg Hands. Picture: PA
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Chief Treasury Minister Greg Hands called John Swinney today to talk about the new Holyrood powers deal after coming under fire for going on holiday during­ ­negotiations.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s spokesman said to take the half-free holiday at such a crucial time in negotiations over the fiscal framework for the Scotland Bill “beggars belief”.

The Scottish and UK governments are in dispute over the adjusted formula for Scotland’s block grant, with each side insisting their preferred formulas would be to the detriment of Scotland or the rest of the UK respectively.

A Treasury spokeswoman confirmed Mr Hands, who is leading the UK government side in the talks, spoke to Deputy First Minister Mr Swinney by phone while taking “a long-planned, short half-term break” in France.

The Treasury added that he was willing to return to the UK if the Scottish Government was to make a “substantial move” in the talks.

Holyrood’s devolution committee has called for a deal ahead of its next meeting on 23 February.

A Treasury spokeswoman said: “The Chief Secretary is away for a long-planned short half-term break with his family but has made clear that he is ready to return at any time if the Scottish Government is willing to make a substantial move.”

Speaking after the telephone conversation between Mr Swinney and Mr Hands, a UK government spokeswoman added: ”The Chief Secretary spoke with the Deputy First Minister on the phone and covered a number of substantive issues, which shows yet again our willingness to engage with and listen to the Scottish Government.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Deputy First Minister has spoken to the Chief Secretary and work is ongoing to secure an agreement.

“[Mr Swinney] remains available to travel to London at any point this week to resume face-to-face negotiations to secure a fiscal framework agreement in line with the principles of the Smith Commission.”

Labour’s shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray said the timing of the UK minister’s holiday showed that the “Treasury won’t take this seriously”, as he called on Prime Minister David Cameron to take charge of the process.