Budgets and Olympics on the mind at Stormont 'summit'

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ALEX Salmond has admitted that slashing the Scottish Government's budget will be "a very, very painful process".

• Northern Ireland's deputy first minister Martin McGuinness welcomes Alex Salmond to Stormont yesterday. Northern Ireland leader Peter Robinson (second left) and the Welsh leader, Carwyn Jones (right), look on. Picture: PA

Speaking at Stormont in Belfast, where he was trying to forge a Celtic alliance against Westminster, the First Minister said the new coalition government's "respect" agenda would be judged on "actions and deeds, not just in terms of words and rhetoric".

The Scottish Government has decided to postpone 332 million worth of cuts from this year's budget and will take a double hit in 2011-2.

He met Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones and Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and his deputy, Martin McGuinness, yesterday to discuss common ground such as campaigning for Olympic consequentials from the UK government.

The Scottish Government estimates it is entitled to 165m from Westminster if the benefits of the London Olympics are to be felt UK-wide.

The three administrations face a combined 704m worth of cuts. However, Mr Salmond is the only First Minister committed to postponing all of his cuts until 2011-12, with both Wales and Northern Ireland considering making some this year.

Mr Salmond said: "Our position has been three-fold on this.

"Firstly, we didn't agree with the prospect put forward by the coalition government that we should make these cuts this year.

"Secondly, if they were going to do that, then we wanted the flexibility to defer because our budget has been set.

"And thirdly, it hasn't been publicised greatly, but it was very important that there wasn't a top-slicing, pro rata, of 6 billion, because if there had been, then Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would have ended up with a disproportionate element of cuts."

The First Minister added: "We found a great deal of common ground between the administrations of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in terms of what has been termed a respect agenda.

"I welcome a respect agenda, I think it is the right way to proceed. The people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will judge that respect agenda in terms of actions and deeds, not just in terms of words and rhetoric."

Mr Salmond said that while grossly imbalanced cuts had been avoided, it would not be an easy task to remove millions from his government's spending plans.

"Far from it. It's going to be a very, very painful process indeed," he said.

"But these elements of flexibility and transparency will make it a bit more manageable than otherwise it would have been, which does tend to indicate the common sense of making sure you have these things in detail and negotiating them through in order to defend the interests of our communities.

"It is important that there is a good line of communication between ourselves and the UK government. Today has been extremely useful."

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