Brown to take Cabinet out of Westminster but 'SNP had the idea first'

GORDON Brown is to hold a Cabinet meeting in the West Midlands as part of an effort to reconnect with the public – the first time the group of senior ministers will have met outside Westminster in more than 80 years.

The meeting is scheduled for 8 September. The exact location has yet to be decided.

The exercise is likely to be repeated at least once at another location, with ministers being sent on fact-finding missions around the chosen regions to "listen and learn" from voters.

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However, Mr Brown was accused yesterday of stealing the ideas of the Scottish Government – Alex Salmond's Cabinet met last week in Dumfries and will meet today in Inverness.

The UK Cabinet last met outwith London in 1921, when the Liberal prime minister David Lloyd George summoned ministers in his coalition government to Inverness to discuss a crisis in Ireland.

He chose Inverness because he was holidaying nearby at Gairloch, while King George V was shooting at Moy.

The emergency Cabinet meeting, which was also attended by future Tory prime ministers Stanley Baldwin and Winston Churchill, was held at Inverness Town House – the same location that Mr Salmond has chosen for his Cabinet meeting today.

It resulted in the "Inverness Formula", which paved the way for the creation of the Irish Free State.

When Mr Brown became Prime Minister last year, he moved the weekly Cabinet meeting from Thursday to Tuesday to prevent discussions clashing with parliamentary business, as the Commons normally starts later on a Tuesday.

However, the West Midlands meeting will be held on a Monday.

Mr Brown's spokesman said yesterday: "There will also be a range of events where ministers will engage with the people of the region, and that is consistent with the government's approach towards engagement and consultation. The Prime Minister has always made it clear he wants to listen and learn from the experience of people and the challenges they face in their daily lives."

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Mr Brown's senior Cabinet colleagues vowed to learn from a series of embarrassing by-election defeats and the loss of hundreds of councillors in England and Wales, in an effort to restore government popularity.

The SNP decided to hold four Cabinet meetings outside Edinburgh to take government "closer to the people". Pitlochry and Skye are the remaining venues, on 19 and 26 August respectively.

Brian Adam, the SNP MSP and chief whip, said: "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Gordon Brown is listening, learning and stealing ideas from the SNP."

The cabinet meetings will be accompanied with the hosting of "good causes" receptions and meetings to promote the SNP's controversial "national conversation" debate on the country's constitutional future.

At Westminster, Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, was starting his week standing in for Mr Brown, replacing Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader.

But Mr Brown's spokesman said: "The Prime Minister remains in charge while he is on holiday. He continues to remain closely involved in all the issues."

Mr Brown is expected to conclude his holiday in Suffolk with several days in Scotland, before heading to Beijing for the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games.

The idea of holding Cabinet meetings around the country was previously suggested by Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary.

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The SNP yesterday said that, following Labour's defeat in last month's Glasgow East by-election, Mr Brown should adopt more of its policies.

Top of its list were moves to tackle soaring energy prices, impose a windfall tax on energy firms and reduce the levy on petrol at a time when the soaring price of oil had produced a 6 billion bonus to the Treasury.

SNP roadshow heads north

ALEX Salmond, the First Minister, rolled into Inverness yesterday with the latest push to persuade voters on the benefits of independence.

The visit, which continues today, is part of the SNP's National Conversation to further the cause of independence and will see the cabinet holding a formal meeting in the city as a commitment to taking government "outside the Holyrood village".

This follows a similar trip to Dumfries last week, and Pitlochry and Skye are the next destinations.

Yesterday, Mr Salmond took a tour of the site of the Battle of Culloden to promote the 2009 Homecoming.

Today, the cabinet will have a formal meeting before taking part in a question-and-answer session with locals. This will be followed by ministers spending the afternoon meeting local groups and businesses, including visits by Mr Salmond to Raigmore Hospital and John Swinney, the finance secretary, to Inverness High School.