CHIEF Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander may have used his position in the Cabinet to benefit his Inverness constituency unfairly, it has been claimed.
Labour described figures which showed the Liberal Democrat MP’s council area in the Highlands received more money to fund exemptions to the bedroom tax than others as “fishy”.
Since he took up his post at the Treasury, the area Mr Alexander represents has also benefited from a tax break for ski lifts, which now have a 5 per cent VAT charge instead of 20 per cent.
There was also a bailout for the Caledonian sleeper train service which Mr Alexander says he regularly uses. At the time of the announcement he said: “As someone who uses that route, I am looking forward to the excellent staff service being matched by facilities which will enhance the trip and make the London sleeper an experience to savour.”
A pot of money was given to Scotland to help deal with cases of disabled people needing extra help because they lost housing benefit after the introduction of the so-called bedroom tax.
Highland Council, where all three MPs are Lib Dem, including Mr Alexander, received £735,000 from this money. That is 80 per cent more than the next highest area, Aberdeenshire, which received £412,000.
In total, Highland received 15 per cent of the entire pot available to 21 local authorities.
Chris Leslie, Labour’s shadow treasury minister, said: “This is very fishy indeed. It seems to be more than a coincidence that, at a time of austerity, funding has gone from the Treasury to so many specific projects that just happen to benefit Danny Alexander’s constituency.
“The chief secretary seems to be happy pushing through deep tax rises and spending cuts across the rest of the country, so long as his backyard is protected.
“When everyone else is paying higher VAT, is it really a priority to give a big VAT cut to ski-lift operators?”
The Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey seat is an SNP target. The Nationalists said yesterday that Mr Alexander has put the coalition’s interests before his constituents. An SNP spokesperson said: “It’s no wonder Danny Alexander is desperately worried about losing his seat given the deep unpopularity of the Lib Dems in propping up a Tory Westminster government, which saw his Liberal colleagues almost totally wiped out at Holyrood.
“Whatever the background to various funding announcements, the fact is Danny Alexander puts the Tory-led government’s interests far ahead of the interests of the Highlands and Islands and the rest of Scotland.”
In an interview last month, Mr Alexander was unapologetic about his support for the Highlands. He said: “I’m an MP from the Highlands, that’s true. I’m the first Highlander to occupy Cabinet office for several generations.
“I think that the fact that for the first time in several generations someone at the top of government has had an understanding of one of the most fragile areas of this country is a good thing. That is what gives me insights into issues that are important.”
Last night, a Lib Dem Treasury spokesman said: “Liberal Democrats are working hard to make sure this government governs for the whole country and is the first for many years to take rural areas seriously.
“It is right that the government recognises the significant challenges for those living in rural communities up and down the country and does what it can to support them.
“This is in addition to the practical help we are delivering.”