Controversial reforms of the welfare system will be on the agenda at a key meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) today in London, along with the Olympics.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones and Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson will be there.
But neither Mr Salmond, nor his deputy Nicola Sturgeon will be attending, and have sent along Scottish Government Cabinet secretary Bruce Crawford and public health minister Michael Matheson instead. The SNP demanded that the JMCs be revived when they came to power in 2007 in order to encourage joint working between the UK government and devolved administrations.
A UK government source said: “While we appreciate that diary clashes happen occasionally, there does seem to be a trend developing with the First Minister only available if he thinks there may be an opportunity to promote himself in the media.
“The important but less publicity-rich work of dealing with government business does not seem to interest him. The other equally busy heads of devolved administrations and UK Cabinet ministers are committed to using the opportunity the committee offers to work in the interest of all the UK, including Scotland. It’s time Mr Salmond did the same.”
Scottish ministers have warned that controversial Westminster reforms of the welfare system, including plans for a single universal credit, will leave many vulnerable groups worse off. It is set to pass laws at Holyrood to “limit the impact of the changes”.
Ms Sturgeon is taking part in a Holyrood debate on the issue later today. Mr Salmond will be in Aberdeen giving a keynote address at the All Energy Conference.
His spokesman said the First Minister had attended every meeting of the annual JMC plenary, which is chaired by the Prime Minister, and defended his decision to go to Aberdeen.
“The conference is one of the most significant dates in the energy calendar, and last year’s event drew together more than 580 exhibitors from 20 countries and some 8,000 attendees from more than 50 countries,” he said.
“Later in the day, the First Minister will chair a meeting of the Scottish Energy Advisory Board, drawing in some of the leading energy figures who are already in Aberdeen as well as taking part in meetings with potential investors.”
Labour’s Michael McMahon, convener of the welfare reform committee, also attacked Mr Salmond’s absence from today’s JMC meeting.
He said: “I find it astonishing that the First Minister has something more important to do.
“The SNP government is keen to make plenty of noise about the damage welfare reform is doing to Scotland, but when it comes down to the serious business of government and protecting Scottish families they don’t want to know.”